Click on each topic for more information



Import regulations and customs duties  - Distribution - Transportation of goods - Standards - Patents and brands

Import regulations and customs duties

The Canada Customs Act regulates the Canadian imports procedure and corresponds to a liberalised model of international trade in which most of the imported goods don't require any license. There are however tariff contingents, especially for wheat, barley, bovine meat and cheese. The attribution of these contingents is subject to the request of a General Licence of Import, for which it is necessary to supply a pro forma invoice to the Imports Control Division at the Ministry of Foreign Trade.
Certain goods are banned, especially the import of second-hand motorized vehicles, with the exception of made-in-USA vehicles (rules are presently being softened for Mexico).
The rules of origin, that allow the benefit of duty discounts, especially for textiles, are extremely drastic since the conclusion of agreement within the ALENA (appendix 401 on the rules of origin, transposed into the national legislation). These rules favour considerably the products from the United States.
Canada is one of the biggest users of antidumping measures regarding more than 85 products (Sima Import Measures Act). These measures affect 35 countries or customs zones (including EC). More than 50 % of the affected products are metallurgical products.


Customs duties
Canada applies the Harmonised Customs System. On average, customs duties are calculated Ad valorem on the CIF value of the goods. The Canada Border Services Agency is responsible for customs operations.
The average rate of the customs duty is 7.2 %, but it might be pointed out that certain sectors are still relatively protected (food up to 30 %, textiles and clothing items up to 21 %). Also, within the framework of import quotas transformation into tariff contingents, about 130 products (mostly farm products) are subject to different rates either if they are imported within the framework of the contingent defined in the beginning of the year, or if they are imported after exhaustion of the assigned contingents (in that case, the rates are generally prohibitive).

Canada also signed a certain number of customs agreements, and especially the ALENA agreements with the USA (suppression of almost all the customs duties) and Mexico (in a transition period until 2009), and bilateral agreements with Chile and Israel granting them the preferential rates.

You can access the most recent Customs Tariff (2006) here.


Import taxes
Excise duty is collected on gasoline, alcohol drinks, tobacco and jewellery. Each State also levies some provincial taxes that they are free to fix up.



Canada's vast geographical size, some 10 million square kilometers, is cause for the absence of a single country-wide distribution network, and has led to the formation of small distribution circuits catering to separate markets; the Canadian federal system thus renders this market not as a single entity, but rather a juxtaposition of several markets each with its own legislation. The difficulties in accessing the various regions and the unique characteristics of each one makes it complex to promote any product in this market. The principal markets in the country are Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. The national authority for control and regulation of consumption in Canada is the Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs.

The Business to Consumer (B to C) market

Canada's standard of living is one of highest in the world. Canadians consume much and save little (the rate of net household savings was 1.42% in 2004, the same as that of the U.S.A.).

In the 1990's, the Canadian distribution market underwent some changes after the arrival of American distributors like Costco (electronics), Wal-Mart (retail) and Home-Depot (do-it-yourself).

The food sector is very much consolidated and is dominated by a few big groups, notably national chains like Sobey and Loblaw in addition to America's Wal-Mart. These companies (with the exception of Wal-Mart) are part of the CCDA (Canadian Council of Food Distributors) whose members generated a total sales turnover of 77.8 billion Canadian dollars.

Thus, there are two main categories of stores: supermarkets on the one hand, and neighbourhood stores or small general-purpose stores called “mini-markets” or "convenience stores" on the other hand.

The Business to Business (B to B) market

Imported products are generally brought into the country by importer-distributors, agents or directly by specialized retailers. Canadian importers are very demanding, especially regarding on-time delivery of goods and quality of service. As in the USA, contractual procedure is of great importance in Canada. It plays a greater role than even statutory framework. It is preferable to deal with wholesale importers. It is important for those who want to do business in Canada to hire the services of a lawyer to get legal advice as per the laws of the country so as to avoid problems one may face at the time of the execution of the contract.

The franchise system of distribution is very much operational in Canada and employs 3% of the country’s population. In the year 2004, there were 1,350 franchise systems with 76,000 outlets in the country. Franchises are regulated by the provincial laws.


Transportation of goods

By road
The road network consists in 290,000 km of roads out of which 7,820 km of highways cross the country from east to west and connect all the big cities of the country. It handles more than 50% of the commercial freight. The number of vehicles on roads is 3,700,000 lorries and buses.

By rail
The rail network is 91,000 km. It is controlled by two big transcontinental companies: the Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway (two private companies). Toronto and Montreal are at four hours journey distance by train.

By sea
Transport by inland waterway is dominated by the Saint Laurent river running from the big lakes to the Atlantic coast. The great lakes are navigable round the year.
The main seaports are Halifax, Toronto (The Great Lakes being connected to the ocean by the Sea route of Saint Laurent), and Montreal and Vancouver on the Pacific coast.

By air
This mode of transportation was used to carry 500 000 tons of goods in 1996. The biggest part of the air freight is done with the United States. The main Canadian airports are Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa, Vancouver and Edmonton. The main airline companies are Air Canada and Canada 3000 on international routes and Royal Air and Calmair on regional and domestic routes.


The public organisation, in charge of standards is the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). It does not formulate them but accredits to private bodies and co-ordinates their activities: the union gathering these entities is the National Standard System. The main entities for normalisation are: the Canadian Standards Association (C.S.A) , the Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (U.L.C), the Canadian General Standards Board (C.G.S.B) and the Normalization Bureau of Quebec. The standards may differ from province to province.

Patents and brands

The organisation responsible for the intellectual property in Canada is the Office of Intellectual Property of Canada (OIPC)
Canada signed the Paris Convention for the protection of industrial property, as well as the agreement establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the Patent Co-operation treaty (PCT).

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Patent Patents Act - 20 years
Trademark Laws on Trademarks of Business - 15 years renewable
Design Law on Design - 15 years renewable
Trademark Trademarks Law Period of validity of 10 years -
Design Industrial Design Law Period of validity of 5 years Period renewable all 5 years


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
Export Entreprises©, All rights reserved