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For additional information relating to this article, please contact:

Doug McCann Research and Statistics Officer
Tel: 902-424-2141Email:

January 04, 2018

The Nova Scotia provincial economic accounts provide the best measures of trade. The robustness of the data allows for the derivation of many indicators that provide significant insight to the trade sector. 


 Total trade is a measure of external trade activity. Total openness index is an indicator of trade expansion or contraction relative to growth in GDP. Included components are export, import, goods and services, international and interprovincial trade. Over the period 2009 to 2016, Nova Scotia total trade was characterized by initial trade expansion (2009-2011) the index increased to 106.9, followed by a general contraction in trade (2012-2016), where the index (2009=100) declined to 99.2

Total trade

In 2009, Nova Scotia gross domestic product declined 1.4% to $34.9 billion over 2008. Total trade (international, interprovincial, goods, services, exports and imports) declined 7.4% to $35.8 billion over 2008.   The only total trade sub sector with positive growth was total services imports, which increased 0.4% to $7.3 billion.

Over 2009-2016, Nova Scotia GDP increased 19.4% (CAGR=2.6%) to $41.7 billion over 2009 and total trade increased 18.5% (CAGR=2.5%) to $42.4 billion over 2009. All trade sectors increased over the period 2009-2016. Some at a rate greater than growth in GDP. Goods exports increased only 7.5% (CAGR=1.0%) to $9.4 billion over 2009, or 1.6 percentage points below growth in GDP. While Service imports (40.5%) and Services exports trade (23.3%) expanded faster than GDP, GDP expanded more than Goods exports trade (7.5%) and Goods import trade (12.6%). Therefore, trade in the former sectors expanded relative to GDP, and trade in the latter sector contracted relative to GDP over the 2009-2016 period.

Total exports 

Total exports growth declined sharply in 2009, decreasing 14.1%. Total goods exports declined 19.1% to $8.7 billion; and Total services exports declined 3.4% to $4.9 billion, over 2008.

Total exports demonstrated a recovery in 2010 (+5.6%) and 2011 (+6.4%). But growth went negative in 2012 (-1.3%). The following two years produced more negative growth: 2013 (-1.1%) and 2014 (-4.0%). Only in 2015 did total exports show positive growth (+4.3%) followed by more positive growth in 2016 (+3.1%).  Over the seven-year period, total exports increased $1.8 billion (13.2%) to $15.4 billion.

Total imports 

Total import growth during the 2009 recession was also negative, declining 2.7%. Goods imports declined 4.2% to $14.9 billion, mitigated by total services imports increasing 0.4% to $7.3 billion.

Total imports demonstrated a strong recovery in 2010 (+7.8%) and 2011 (+8.5%). It was up and down over the next several years. In 2012 imports decreased 1.5%, followed by a +2.5% increase the following year and another -3.6% decline the next year.  In 2015, things turned around with two consecutive increases of +3.5% and +3.3%. Over the seven-year period, total imports increased $4.8 billion (21.8%) to $27.0 billion. Total imports outpaced Total exports and GDP.

Total imports continue to dominate total exports. Sixty-four percent of all Nova Scotia external trade is imports. About 36% of total trade is exports. With each year, the differential gets larger.

  • Total trade is also divided between international (48%) and interprovincial (52%) trade.
  • Total trade favours total goods (62%) over total services (38%).

Over 2009-2016,

  • GDP increased 19.4% (CAGR=2.6%) to $41.7 billion,
  • Total Trade increased 18.5% (CAGR=2.5%) to $42.4 billion. GDP is expanding faster than Total Trade.
  • Total Goods increased 10.7% (CAGR=1.5%) to $26.1 billion. GDP is expanding faster than Total Goods.
  • Total Services increased 33.6% (CAGR=4.2%) to $16.3 billion. Total Services are expanding faster than GDP, and faster than Total Goods.


Trade Openness

The total trade openness indexes (2009=100) provide evidence to the expansion or contraction of the various trade components. Each component expressed as a share of GDP, and is indexed to 2009=100.

The services imports openness index (2009=100) increased 17.6 points over 2009; the services exports openness index (2009=100) increased 3.2 points; and the goods imports openness index (2009=100) decreased 5.7 points; and the goods exports openness index (2009=100) trade contracted by 10.0 points, over 2009. 

In the illustration one can see that total services imports openness index increased by 17.6 points by 2016; and total services exports openness index increased 3.2 points over the same period. Growth in services imports has exceeded growth in services exports.

Over the 2009 to 2016 period, total goods imports openness index and total goods exports openness index started off well, increasing by 8.7 points and 5.5 points respectively to 2011, then both trended into a decline. Total goods imports openness index net decrease between 2009 and 2016 was  5.7 points and total goods exports openness index declined 10.0 points over the same period. A downward trend in goods trade openness index is an indication of trade contraction. Second, the rate of decline is greatest in the goods exports openness index, indicating that markets for Nova Scotian goods declined more than Nova Scotia demand for imported goods.


In summary, after the recession, the Nova Scotia economy continues to grow and external trade is, in general, expanding.  Nova Scotia external goods trade, while growing, is falling behind growth in the domestic economy. 


Computed from Statistics Canada CANSIM table 384-0038



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