Supporting the export success of small and medium‑sized enterprises
Small and medium‑sized enterprises (SMEs) play a vital role in Canada's economy, with more than 95,000 of them exporting goods or services from Canada, accounting for the vast majority of the country’s exporters.
Why is exporting so important for so many SMEs? Consider the significant benefits:
- Innovation boost: Exporting businesses innovate almost twice as much as their non-exporting counterparts, driving technological advancements and improving products and services.
- Sales and growth: Exporting businesses earn more, grow faster, and show greater resilience during market challenges, which helps to ensure financial stability.
- Access to new markets: Canada’s population represents just 0.5% of the global population, meaning that almost all of our potential customers are in other countries, including many that are covered by Canada’s free trade agreements.
- Global competition: Exporting diversifies markets, which helps to mitigate risks posed by a single‑market focus, and to ensure long‑term sustainability.
- "Made‑in‑Canada" brand: Our products and services have a reputation for quality and reliability around the globe. The "Made‑in‑Canada" label carries international appeal, fostering trust and recognition among global consumers.
The Trade Commissioner Service: Your partner in exporting
Many small businesses find success by selling their products in other countries. This export journey is full of growth opportunities, and we're here to help you make the most of them. Each year, we help more than 10,000 clients do business and succeed in markets abroad. In fiscal year 2022–23, 93% of the businesses we helped were SMEs.
While the path presents its challenges, it also offers immense potential. These challenges can include limited resources, regulatory hurdles, market unfamiliarity, and access to financing. That’s where the Trade Commissioner Service comes in. We offer export advisory services, funding, accelerator programs and more to help eligible businesses of all sizes, including SMEs:
- navigate the ins and out of doing business outside Canada;
- discover and take advantage of opportunities in international markets; and
- succeed in their global expansion efforts.
Advice from our export experts
We have a global network of more than 1,000 Trade Commissioners on the ground in more than 160 cities worldwide. Their knowledge and expertise help guide businesses, including SMEs, in four key areas:
- Preparation for international markets: Helping businesses understand and prepare for the challenges and opportunities of exporting.
- Market potential assessment: Providing insights into market conditions, demand and competition in foreign countries.
- Qualified contacts: Facilitating connections with potential partners, distributors and customers in international markets.
- Problem solving: Assisting businesses in overcoming challenges and obstacles they may encounter while doing business abroad.
Funding support for export market development
Besides our main services, we also help Canadian businesses grow in other countries through our CanExport SMEs program, which provides up to $50,000, covering 50% of costs for Canadian SMEs exploring new markets and expanding their business globally.
Who can apply for CanExport SMEs funding? Any eligible Canadian SME looking to enter international markets and expand their business can apply, regardless of industry. The program funds a wide range of activities aimed at boosting presence in international markets where you currently have little or no sales. For more details on eligibility and application guidelines, consult the applicant's guide on our website.
We also offer the CanExport Innovation program, which provides up to $75,000 in funding to help Canadian SMEs, academic institutions, and non‑government research centres pursue research and development collaborations with pre‑identified partners in foreign markets. Consult the applicant's guide for more information.
Additional programs and resources to support SMEs' global expansion
- Canadian Technology Accelerators (CTAs): Our CTAs allow businesses, including SMEs, to explore growth opportunities in 12 global tech hubs. It provides support, mentorship, and contacts for international growth, with a focus on cleantech, information and communications technologies, and life sciences. The best part? Participation comes at no cost except for travel and accommodation expenses.
- Canadian International Innovation Program (CIIP): Our CIIP encourages research and development collaborations with foreign partners, fostering innovation on a global scale.
- Events and trade missions: We help connect businesses with potential international buyers or partners at industry events in Canada and across the globe. We also organize trade missions and business delegations for key trade events or specific business groups. These initiatives help businesses gain exposure, network and explore international opportunities — all of which helps them accelerate their global expansion.
- Support for exporters from underrepresented groups: We offer tailored support to SMEs owned or led by members of groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in international trade, namely women, Indigenous Peoples, Black and other racialized entrepreneurs, members of 2SLGBTQI+ communities, and youth. That includes group‑specific business delegations and assistance from diversity champions in our regional offices in Canada. Our commitment to supporting underrepresented groups ensures equal access to resources and opportunities for all SMEs in the global marketplace.
- Free Trade Agreement promotion: We have resources to help SMEs better understand and benefit from Canada’s 15 free trade agreements, which cover 51 countries, 61% of world GDP and 1.5 billion consumers.
SMEs leading the way
According to a Global Affairs Canada analysis of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans‑Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), SMEs expanded their dutiable exports to new CPTPP markets by a 12.3% in the agreement's first year of implementation. This is just one example that shows that SMEs are not just participants in international trade, but actively benefit from export opportunities, including those from free trade agreements.
Whether you're considering your first new market abroad, or looking to expand to even more countries, we have a range of tools, programs and services to support your export journey.
Explore our website to learn more about how we can help you expand your business outside Canada, and get in touch with us when the time is right.
- Export quiz
- Are you ready to grow your business abroad?
- Canada’s free trade agreements: The gateway to enter new markets and diversify your exports
- Helping business owners from diverse backgrounds benefit from trade
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