International Trade

Jeannie Bail


An important part of international business is understanding the flow of goods and services between countries. Trade between nations can be influenced by different economic, sociopolitical and legal factors. Often, trade is regulated by agreements that are made between its signatories. For example, in 2018, Canada, the United States and Mexico signed an agreement known as CUSMA to encourage and promote trade between the three North American countries. Its main goal is to facilitate trade in goods, particularly in the agricultural and automotive industries.

In the international arena, a number of Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) exist to regulate trade between members. The biggest one of these is the World Trade Organization (WTO), which emerged out of a previous multilateral initiative called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

This chapter will introduce you to some of the various governmental and intergovernmental organizations where you can locate import and export data to better understand the flow of goods and services between countries. Trade data can help you understand how these flows are affected by forces like the exchange rate and global events.


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World Trade Organization (WTO)

Established in 1995 to provide an institutional framework to implement the principles of the GATT, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is the “only international organization dealing with the global rules of trade. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible”.  The WTO seeks to lower barriers to trade through a multilateral trading system consisting of agreements that are negotiated, signed and ratified among the world’s largest trading economies. These agreements promote transparency and reliability for international trade among member states.

Here is a short video that introduces the WTO, which was created for its 25th anniversary in 2020:

WTO Data: Information portal to information on tariff and trade data, non-tariff measures, intellectual property, WTO statistics and more.

WTO Trade Policy Reviews: Search Trade Policy Reviews (TPR) by country, which provide an overview and assessment of foreign trade within a given country, including supply management, trade policy developments and key government initiatives.

IGO or Governmental Trade Resources


  • Trade Data Online (Government of Canada): Utilizing data from Statistics Canada and the U.S. Census Bureau, this source makes it possible to to generate customized reports on Canada and U.S. trade in goods with over 200 countries.
  • International Trade Data (Government of Canada):  Data and market intelligence for export development, importing and foreign investment business planning. Includes import and export trade data, international trade statistics, a list of companies that import goods into Canada, global market trends, tariff information, and more.
  • The International Trade Explorer is a data visualization of annual trade statistics.
  • International Trade > Key Indicators (Statistics Canada, Government of Canada): Includes a number of data points like imports, exports, importing/exporting enterprises, value of imports and more. You can also search for data series and analysis reports from Statistics Canada. An example report: Canadian Megatrends: Canada’s exports over time: Resources and manufactured goods.
  • International Trade and Investment (Government of Canada): A “one stop shop” for everything on importing, exporting and investing in foreign markets and Canada.
  • Canadian International Merchandise Trade Web Application (Statistics Canada, Government of Canada): Historical export and import trade data by commodity type for Canada. Also contains data on top trade partners for Canada as a whole and by province. Commodity types are searchable by name or HS code, which is determined by the World Customs Organization (WCO).

United States

  • International Trade Association (U.S. Department of Commerce): Portal to research organized by country, such as Free Trade Agreement (FTA) listings, foreign trade remedy actions, market intelligence and an export destination markets video series that feature interviews with in-country trade experts. Incoterms set out the responsibilities of both the buyer and seller in the sale of goods in international transactions and are universally understood.
  • Foreign Trade (U.S. Census Bureau): Official source for U.S. export and import statistics. Contains the Guide to Foreign Trade Statistics, information on export training events, reports on international foreign trade, foreign trade regulations, a trade definitions glossary and more.
  • Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) (U.S. Department of Agriculture): Search by country or region, or use its Data & Analysis tools, including databases on the Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS), Production, Supply and Distribution Online (PSD), and the Export Sales Report (ESR) Query System. FAS provides Open Data Service APIs for GATS, PSD and ESR.


  • Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): FAOSTAT contains food and agriculture  data from over 245 countries and territories. Coverage dates from 1961 to present.
  • International Trade Centre (ITC): Features trade information for over 200 countries and territories on a wide range of topics, including trade statistics on goods and services, market data and report coverage on topics like inclusive and regional trade.
  • United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database (Comtrade): Uses Tableau to visually present data on official trade statistics from over 200 reporting countries. Offers an API for data extraction purposes.
  • World Customs Organization (WCO): Official platform that features access to over 300 international and regional trade agreements, information on the Harmonized System (HS) with HS goods classification codes that are used universally and valuation essentials for merchandise, including Article VII of the GATT and decisions from the Committee on Customs Valuation.


34 percent of what we consume in Canada is at least partially produced elsewhere. (Bank of Canada)

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Business Information Skills Certificate (BISC): Research Guide Copyright © 2023 by Jeannie Bail is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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