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The five steps to export with free trade agreements

Using free trade agreements (FTAs) to your advantage can seem complicated at first, but there are many benefits to leveraging them within your export strategy.  The Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) helps exporters like you navigate the FTA landscape, ensuring Canadian-owned businesses have access to new international markets.

With teams in over 160 cities around the world, Trade Commissioners are able to help you with your specific FTA needs and provide in-country support around market access and networking.

FTAs and five key steps

Recently we compiled a list of five steps you can take to use FTAs to your advantage, and build a strong export strategy, including:

  1. determine your tariff classification
  2. Find your tariff preference
  3. verify rules of origin compliance
  4. Claim  preferential access
  5. exporting and requesting advance rulings

Through FTAs, Canadian businesses have gained preferential access to nearly 90% of export markets, or about 1.5 billion potential customers worldwide. Canada is an internationally respected trading nation and the leading G7 country in market access thanks to our 14 free trade agreements. In 2017, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) made up just over 40% of the value of Canadian exported goods. SMEs are well‑positioned to take advantage of FTAs and could benefit greatly by expanding into new markets with these agreements in place.

Building an FTA export strategy

Now is the perfect time for you to build an FTA export strategy. Canada has a resilient and stable economy and an educated workforce that is poised to drive innovative approaches to doing business abroad. When building your FTA export strategy, it is important to identify and leverage emerging global opportunities by understanding how FTAs benefit you in specific regions.

Two of the most frequently asked export questions that SMEs ask are:

  1. How do FTAs help small and medium‑sized businesses?
  2. Are FTA benefits automatic if I export to a country that we have an agreement with?

FTAs help businesses enter new markets and operate more freely by removing or lowering tariff barriers. Many FTAs continue to be modernized to meet changing trade trends. These can cover areas like the environment, intellectual property, e‑commerce, and other business‑related activities. The agreements enable exporting Canadian SMEs to compete on more level playing fields with local businesses and businesses from other countries. You can learn more about specific tariffs for each country by visiting the Canada Tariff Finder.

The most used FTA by Canadian SMEs is CUSMA (formerly called NAFTA)—specifically, Canada–USA–Mexico trade. With over 70% of our exports sold to the USA, it is our most prosperous bilateral relationship. However, it is important that you don’t limit yourself to exporting singularly to the United States. Each of our 14 FTAs offers specific benefits and some countries are better suited for your products and services.

For instance, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) was enacted in 2017 with the European Union (EU) and eliminates tariffs on 98% of EU tariff lines, which is a great FTA for you to consider in your export strategy if you sell goods. CETA includes provisions on temporary entry of business persons, rules to address digital trade barriers, and a chapter on environmental governance. In 2018‑19 CETA helped Canadian businesses increase their exports to EU countries by 6%. It is in your best interest to research all FTAs and their markets to determine where you will have the best competitive edge.

How to take advantage of FTAs

Whether you are about to start exporting, or have been exporting for years, the TCS produces valuable guides and resources for businesses looking to make the most of FTAs. Because the FTA requirements and processes must be met to access most of their benefits, it is important that you learn about all the steps you must take before you start exporting.

Start building a stronger export strategy today and include the five steps that can help you use FTAs to your advantage.

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