Export Development Canada (EDC) recently hosted a regional roundtable virtual series with our financial institution (FI) partners in Ontario, Quebec and the Western and Atlantic provinces. Developed as a pilot program, we were tremendously pleased with the participation rate of close to 100 senior leaders within your customer-facing and credit-risk teams. The series was developed with a specific goal in mind: To deliver on your requests throughout 2020 for more global market insights. In response, Peter Hall, EDC’s vice-president and chief economist, delivered a keynote presentation tailored specifically for you on the critical role international trade will play in Canada’s pandemic recovery and future prosperity. I thought it would be interesting to summarize the insights you shared with us—both during and after the events—as one of the sentiments echoed in several of your comments was that you welcomed the opportunity to find out what your peers were thinking. So, in that spirit, here’s what you said.

Regional input, universal sentiments

Each virtual event kicked off with participants introducing themselves and identifying the key challenges faced by their clients while growing and maintaining their businesses internationally. Not surprisingly, the how part of the equation featured prominently: Specifically, what’s the quickest way for Canadian companies to start selling abroad? That question is especially important for domestically focused companies that now recognize a “once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity” is theirs for the taking—as one of the regional attendees described it—in terms of expanding to new markets. Companies have had to adapt—big time—in the face of COVID-19. As they went digital to better serve their existing domestic customers, they also realized the vast opportunities of pivoting to sell their wares to the global marketplace. In the age-old spirit of “learning by doing,” they discovered that selling beyond Canada wasn’t nearly as daunting as they’d anticipated. What’s more, selling to international markets had the benefit of shoring up any softening in Canadian sales: For some companies, it was the difference between rolling up the carpet or staying in business. 

Another challenge raised was the ability to provide your clients with sound advice on how to navigate the international business market—looking beyond simply supporting their financing and banking needs—early on in their export journey. Notably, you were looking for international market knowledge and guidance to help bolster customer confidence as they ventured into new territory. This was especially true for the more non-traditional foreign markets, which can present unique circumstances. 

And finally, you voiced the need for EDC’s assistance in determining the risks involved in your customers’ specific international transactions, so you could understand your own exposure and better prepare your clients to enter a particular market. Some of you were looking for specific advice on capital restrictions in high-growth markets, like India, as well as the possibility of partnering with EDC in those emerging markets. The bottom line: You’re looking for more market intelligence to better prepare your customers for the journey ahead.

Where you stood in the polls

For each event, we asked participants to provide input on two key questions, then we shared the results at the end of each event. What we found interesting was that regardless of which region you hailed from, the results were quite similar.

Your customers’ international trade potential

Three-quarters of you believe that a significant percentage (between 11% to 50%) of your customers have the potential to sell internationally within the next two years.

Your customers’ key challenges in selling internationally

  • 68% of you indicated that market knowledge topped the challenge list. 
  • Finding new customers and suppliers was a close second at 62%. 
  • Almost half of you indicated that export and international logistics, as well as advice and mentorship, placed third and fourth, respectively.

Keep in mind, EDC has developed several tools and resources that your customers can access for free with respect to international market insights. Our Country Risk Quarterly reports, TradeInsights portal, Global Economic Outlook and Global Export Forecast are just a few that I encourage you to share with both your teams and their clients.

FI Insights

Your link to industry trends, trade news and financial solutions developed exclusively for our FI partners.

Following up on your followup

Similar to the market knowledge challenge revealed during the second poll, many of you provided specific information requests in your post-event survey comments. Once again, your feedback was almost universal: International market trends are what you’re after. 

On a personal note, I can’t thank you enough for all of the incredibly positive feedback. You acknowledged a level of excellence in our support, for which we’re truly grateful. You were also thankful for the regional approach to the roundtables, expressing a desire to continue the dialogue and the opportunity to connect with your peers. In terms of constructive input, one of our key lessons learned was to provide more time for open discussion. We hear you and that consideration will be top of mind in future planning. 

Many Canadian businesses see the early post-COVID-19 era as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to expand into new markets.

You also voiced the need for tactical ideas on reaching out to your customers. One comment that particularly resonated with our group was the desire to better understand the specific opportunities that are being missed by traditional lenders, and what some of the appropriate risk-return scenarios might look like.

Where do we go from here?

As Peter Hall mentioned in both his keynote presentation and post-roundtable blog, we’re all going to have to step up our game if we’re to overcome one of Canada’s existential threats: Our widening trade gap. While other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries have seen a decline in their share of global export volumes, Canada’s decline has been steeper. 

There’s a $165-billion trade gap in annual foregone exports between where we sit in relation to other OECD members. That’s a big problem and it’s going to require a lot of solutions on many fronts. We’re going to have to work together to foster a business environment that encourages discovery, entrepreneurship and a healthy dose of risk if we’re to grow our global footprint. We know it can be done—just look at how powerful our partnership was in delivering recovery stimulus to Canadian companies in need. 

Let’s face it, as a country, we don’t do international trade like Europe or Asia. In Europe, it’s part of their DNA, and it’s fostered by the institutions that surround and propel them into international markets. In Asia, those international growth support mechanisms are even more vigorous. They seem to understand and respect the fact that risk is a fundamental part of the equation. We’re going to have to learn to emulate these practices. We also need to focus our attention on the high-growth emerging markets because that’s where most of the action’s been in the last few decades, and certainly, where it’ll be in the decades to come. And in evaluating risk, we need to remind ourselves that inaction can be the greatest risk of all.

As one of our participants so aptly put it, many Canadian businesses see the early post-COVID-19 era as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to expand into new markets. And these businesses will be coming to you for support as they venture beyond our borders. They’ll need market knowledge, risk mitigation strategies and financing solutions. And they won’t all come from traditional, resource-rich industries, nor will all their products fit in containers. 

The world of international trade is changing, and in Canada, that means a rise in services exports— all negative effects of COVID-19 aside. We have technology firms bursting with intellectual property and insights that we can barely decipher. They’ve shifted into overdrive and we’re going to have to do the same. It won’t be enough to simply keep up with them. We’re going to have to anticipate the curves and dips ahead. And if we don’t provide the solutions they need, they’ll start knocking on other doors. 

We’re going to have to shed our tendency to look at historical performance rather than future potential, especially given the accelerated rate of change. Focusing solely on the rearview mirror means we’re going to miss the signposts up ahead. We’re going to have to support these next-generation businesses because they’re the companies that are going to help us close our trade gap. They’re the ones that are looking to export from Day 1, or to use my earlier description, that have international trade in their DNA. 

Their dreams alone won’t be enough. They’ll need a solid business and export plan, built on current market trends and insights. But if you have a customer whose area of business might be a bit out of your comfort zone—perhaps they’re growing at the speed of light or they’re entering trickier markets—don’t rule them out. Take a good look at their strategy because quite possibly, they could be the next Shopify. Those companies are our future and it’s our collective job to provide the know-how and financial support to make their plans a reality

Building on the momentum

The regional roundtables provided our first opportunity with this ecosystem of partners for EDC to share our forecast on the shape of the post-COVID-19 recovery: Where we see GDP growth this year and next, and the role that international trade, emerging markets and developed markets will play in Canada’s future growth. As with any pilot program, there’s always room for improvement. Thanks to your feedback, we’re actively looking at ways to address the concerns you raised.  

I’m gratified that we were able to provide a forum in which you could share your challenges with your peers and our regional representatives. Know that your voice is important and that it will inform how we move forward and strengthen our ties with you at every level. If you have any questions about accessing EDC international market and risk resources, please reach out to me, your EDC regional manager or regional vice-president. 

Your EDC regional partner team

Nona Akhavan

Nona Akhavan
Partner Regional Manager, British Columbia
Export Development Canada

Alexandra Bell

Alexandra Bell
Partner Regional Manager, Quebec & Atlantic Canada
Export Development Canada

Danielle Cooper

Danielle Cooper
Partner Regional Manager, Prairies
Export Development Canada

Johanna Franz

Johanna Franz
Partner Regional Manager, Ontario 
Export Development Canada