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Expand globally with Canada’s free trade agreements

Your company can benefit from preferential access to 1.5 billion potential customers around the world through free trade agreements (FTAs). With 99.5% of the world’s population outside our borders, it is time for you to capitalize on unprecedented market opportunities and Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) can help you.

Canada’s FTAs make an impact

FTA benefits for Canadian businesses

We can help you make the most of FTAs

  1. Trade commissioners in Canada and around the world provide expert advice to help you benefit from preferential access to these markets.
  2. The TCS helps Canadian businesses grow by connecting them with international opportunities, funding, and support programs. Contact a trade commissioner in more than 160 cities worldwide and across Canada.
  3. Register a trade barrier and let us help you. We work with several partner government departments that examine each challenge and use their network to identify possible solutions.

Here’s how you can use FTAs to your advantage

Step 1 ‑ Determine the correct tariff classification

The World Customs Organization's Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System classifies traded products. As an exporter or importer, you are responsible for the correct use of these codes when declaring your goods for international trade.

The first six digits of the code are standardized and used around the world. Individual countries may then add extra digits afterwards, meaning the code used for your product in one country is likely not the same as the code you will need to use for another. For this reason, it is important to ensure you are using the correct classification each time you do business with a new country.

Step 2 ‑ Determine tariff preference

FTAs reduce or eliminate tariffs and trade barriers. This gives companies preferential access when exporting specific products to countries where there is an FTA in place.

It is also important to determine whether tariff rate quotas apply to your product. These quotas place limits on the amount of products that can be imported into a country with reduced or eliminated duty rates.

Determine your product’s tariff classification and whether or not it has preferential access with the Canada Tariff Finder. This free tool helps Canadian exporters and importers identify harmonized system codes and relevant tariffs on goods destined for, or originating from, a country where Canada has an FTA.

Step 3 ‑ Confirm if your product meets the rules of origin

Rules of origin are an important part of FTAs that businesses must follow to make sure they can actually use the reduced or eliminated tariffs for their products in the agreements. These rules vary by product, but for example could require a product to be wholly obtained in Canada, have a certain percentage of its components come from Canada or an FTA partner country (countries), and/or be significantly transformed in Canada by adding value. Once a product meets the rules of origin, it is deemed “originating” and qualifies for preferential tariff treatment. Consequently, these rules also outline the acceptable portion of non‑originating materials.

The rules of origin for each of Canada’s FTAs are generally set out in separate chapters, with varying requirements. Experts and consultants such as freight forwarders and customs brokers can provide specific information related to how your product complies with the rules of origin. You can also obtain an Advance Ruling from the importing country’s customs authorities, a legally binding document that provides you with certainty.

If a country that you want to import from, or export to, is a partner in more than one of Canada’s FTAs, you can use the agreement that benefits you the most. For example, Mexico is a part of the Canada‑United States‑Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Step 4 ‑ Claim preferential access to a market

It is important to note that goods do not receive preferential access automatically even if they qualify; you must claim it. In order to claim preference, importers need a certificate of origin. The requirements for certificates of origin can vary but generally need to contain these elements at the minimum:

  • the identity of the certifier of the certificate (importer, exporter, or producer)
  • the addresses and contact information of the importer, exporter, or producer
  • a description and harmonized system tariff classification of the product
  • the origin criteria ‑ specify the rule or chapter under which the good qualifies
  • the signature of the certifier

Certificates of origin are generally the responsibility of the exporter or producer; however, in Canada’s recent FTAs (CUSMA and CPTPP), they can be completed by importers as well. In all of Canada’s FTAs, importers must have a certificate of origin to claim preferential treatment for the good, which can be received electronically from the exporter or producer.

The customs administration of the importing country may also conduct a verification to confirm whether the imported good qualifies as originating.

Under all of Canada’s FTAs, you may complete a single certification of origin for multiple imports of identical goods for a period of up to twelve months. You should keep documents that support your claim for five years in case they are required for an audit.

Step 5 ‑ Export your products

After completing these steps, you should be ready to export your goods with preferential access. One way that you can be sure of how a country’s customs administration will treat your products will upon arrival is with an advance ruling.

Advance rulings

Advance rulings are one of the most effective trade facilitation tools in Canada’s FTAs. They help expedite customs clearance and provide more certainty about how a customs administration will treat your product at the border.

Advance rulings for origin under an FTA must be requested from the customs administration of the importing country. You must provide the importing country with a binding ruling on your products, including:

Advance rulings can help you determine the cost of selling your goods in a market before you ship anything. They can take 120 to 150 calendar days to receive.

More FTA resources

Canada’s most requested FTAs

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