Every March, countries around the world celebrate International Women’s Day by recognizing the incredible achievements of women across the globe. 

Whether it’s Sanna Marin, the world’s youngest female head of government in Finland, astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir successfully completing the first all-female spacewalk, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland leading interprovincial collaboration, or Chief Trade Commissioner Ailish Campbell championing Canada on the international stage, there’s no shortage of inspiring women driving positive change.

This year, the Government of Canada launched #BecauseOfYou, a campaign to highlight women and girls who are helping to advance gender equality and the rights of women across the country.

No matter where you are in your export journey, there are challenges to overcome. Here are some of the top resources to help women exporters navigate the trade ecosystem.

Equality isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s also a business challenge. Research shows that advancing women’s economic equality will benefit all Canadians, adding about $150 billion in incremental GDP by 2026. Yet only 11% of Canadian women-owned businesses are currently exporting.

Assessing and identifying your target market

  • Trade Data Online is an excellent tool to help determine which countries have a higher demand for your products based on the volume of Canadian exports. This can help you identify where to focus your customer efforts. For example, a search of export of natural honey in 2019 (HS Code 0409) identifies the United States, Japan, China, South Korea, and Greece as top markets to explore.
  • The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings provide indicators on time and costs required for business processes (importing goods, starting a business, paying taxes, crossing borders, etc.). Review the timelines associated with starting a business (procedure, time, cost) for women versus men in these markets. Timelines may vary depending on how progressive the country is.
  • Country Insights by Global Affairs Canada’s Centre for Intercultural Learning has information on business etiquette and cultural norms in various markets. There’s a section on religion, class, ethnicity and gender in regards to women’s rights and ability to do business in a specific country.
  • Consider free trade agreements: they give Canadian businesses a competitive edge in markets with 1.5 billion potential consumers, which is a huge advantage. They include:

- the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP),which specifically includes dedicated provisions to “women and economic growth, including helping women build capacity and skill, enhancing women’s access to markets, obtaining technology and financing, establishing women’s leadership networks, and identifying best practices in workplace flexibility”;

- the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA); and 

- the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA).

Developing an export plan

Having a written export plan can help communicate and organize your company’s export efforts. It also provides you with a go-to document to articulate your international expansion plans to others, including financial institutions and government partners, like the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS).

Developing an export roadmap enables you to strategize how to get from where you are to where you want to be. But you don’t have to build your roadmap alone. Available resources include:

  • The Trade Accelerator Program (TAP) provides sessions with peers and advisors to help you develop your export strategy. In January 2020, TAP hosted its first women-only cohort. One of the objectives of the program is to increase your revenue and help you enter new markets.
  • BDC’s Business Strategy and Planning guide is a good starting place to help you understand how to develop, implement, and evaluate your strategic plan.

Finding your customers

Once you’ve identified your target market, the next step is finding new customers. 

  • Watch on demand EDC’s webinar Making the connection with new customers on how to make valuable business connections. Hear from a panel of industry experts who will provide insight, tools and tips on how to connect with the resources you need.
  • Export Development Canada’s Finding and Keeping International Customers discusses how to find partners and sell internationally. 
  • Business Women in International Trade is a TCS team dedicated to supporting Canadian women-owned businesses as they expand into global markets. Their expertise is helping women-owned businesses in identifying opportunities through connections in market such as trade events and missions, assisting with funding opportunities, and navigating regulations and compliance.  

Attending trade shows

Trade shows can be a great place to establish connections with potential customers in your target markets. 

Make use of supplier diversity programs

Supplier diversity programs aim to incorporate more women-owned (and Indigenous-owned, minority-owned and LGBTQ-owned) businesses into corporate supply chains and government contracts. 

  • More than 95% of Fortune 500 companies have supplier diversity programs that target historically under-used businesses, expand buyers’ choice, and boost innovation, competitiveness and market knowledge.
  • For women-owned companies, getting“certified” means they are able to access specific supplier diversity programs. Consider registering with WeConnect and WBE Canada as a certified women-owned company for matchmaking opportunities between women-owned businesses and corporate and government supply chains.

Finding financing and grants

  • In February 2020, EDC announced an increase in funds for our Women in Trade Investment Program, and a new target to facilitate $2 billion in trade by 2023—eight times more than the $250-million target set in 2018. Our goal: to serve the needs of women-owned and -led businesses engaged in exporting.

We want women to know that there are customers outside of Canada who want to pay for their products and services. We know that companies that export have greater chances of success and increasing their numbers would create jobs and have a positive impact on our GDP. Women’s business success is Canada’s success, and EDC is here to help them reach their international goals.

Lina Alvarez  —  Women in Trade advisor
  • Innovation Canada is a great place to start as a woman-owned business to understand the programs and resources available. The tool allows companies to search for funding by answering a few short questions to filter for programs of interest. For example, you can use the filters to search for grants that aim to support specifically women-owned businesses.
  • The Trade Commissioner Service expanded its program parameters in 2019 for its CanExport SME program. Canadian small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can now apply online for up to $75,000 in funding to reimburse up to 75% of eligible expenses associated with entering a new export market. Eligible expenses can include:

- online advertising; 

- adapting or translating existing marketing material;

- purchase of market research software; and 

- subscriptions to identify key contacts in your sector/target markets.

You have questions—we have answers!

Work with one of EDC’s experienced trade experts on our Export Help team to get answers about choosing an international market, finding customers, clearing customs, navigating tax requirements, conducting due diligence, or other export-related questions.

Contact ExportHelp@edc.ca to work with an export advisor directly.