Due to the pandemic and related lockdowns across the world, there has been an increase in services and goods ordered and delivered online.

The digital economy is growing. Thanks to technological advancements in international trade, businesses and consumers have increasingly turned online for purchases, and the demand for digital services—including online entertainment, education, and digital applications for work—has gone up.

Many of these behavioural changes are expected to be long-term.

There is widespread agreement that digital trade’s contribution to the Canadian economy is increasing, and that international trade is growing. But classifying and measuring the opportunities and challenges of digital trade is difficult.

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See our latest releases for digital trade.

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Questions we asked:

  • What is digital trade? Why does it matter?
  • Why is it important to measure digital trade?
  • How does Canada measure and record digital trade now?
  • What needs to change?
  • How do other countries measure and report digital trade?

What’s the challenge?

There’s still no consensus on what economic activities are covered under this broad term, or what the barriers to digital trade are. This lack of clarity leads to multiple interpretations, creates difficulties in identifying the right measurement tools, and can limit the data’s usefulness.

Inaccurate and incomplete data make it difficult for governments to shape trade policies around globalization and technology and for businesses to make strategic choices.

If digital trade policy is based on incomplete evidence, taxes may not be accurately collected, businesses may be working in the wrong direction, and statistics may not be comparable internationally.

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Where is Canada in capturing value generated by cross-border digital trade, and how can it measure better?

Swapna Nair

Swapna Nair

Senior Economist and Global Commerce Centre Lead, The Conference Board of Canada

Recent releases

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Designing Supply Chains for a Post-Pandemic Era

Virtually, no industry or country has been untouched by the pandemic’s supply chain disruptions. To handle future shocks, businesses need to take a hard look at their supply chain designs—and find room for adaptability and sustainability. Since COVID-19’s onset, factory closures, commodity shortages, and shipping bottlenecks have resulted in production delays and higher input costs.

Issue briefing  |  8-min read
December 10, 2021

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Why Retailers Should Care About Digital Trade Statistics

Before the pandemic, e-commerce was already growing. The last year and a half have accelerated that growth. Statistics Canada estimates that domestic retail e-commerce sales increased by 70.5 per cent in 2020. Estimates from McKinsey Global Institute suggest e-commerce will add up to US$2.1 trillion to international trade by 2030.

Online experience  |  8-min read
December 10, 2021

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Choosing the Right Ruler: Approaches to Measuring Digital Trade

The pandemic and related lockdowns across the world have increased the volume of digital trade. Even within Canada, there is evidence of digital trade being on the upswing and, in general, Canadians turning to online for purchasing goods and services.

Impact paper  |  36-min read
November 17, 2021

Spokesperson: Swapna Nair


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What is digital trade and why does it matter?

Digital trade is booming worldwide, but countries are struggling to define, measure, and track its impact. Swapna Nair discusses the challenges and opportunities Canada has to become a leader in the international sphere (and international standards) of digital trade.

Swapna Nair—December 1, 2021
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About GCC

The Global Commerce Centre (GCC) is a collaborative research initiative bringing together senior leaders from the public and private sectors to analyze emerging global shifts, identifies the challenges they may bring, and explores trade opportunities.

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For a deeper conversation on digital trade, please contact: Swapna Nair

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