Canada country brief


A land of vast distances and rich natural resources, Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 while retaining ties to the British crown.  Economically and technologically, the nation has developed in parallel with the neighbouring United States (US).

Canada is the second-largest country in world (after Russia) and the world's largest country that borders only one country.  Approximately 90% of the population is concentrated within 160 km of the US border.  Canada has more fresh water than any other country with at least 2 million lakes (more than all other countries combined) and almost 9% of Canadian territory is water.  Located in northern North America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean on the east, North Pacific Ocean on the west, and the Arctic Ocean on the north (sitting strategically between the US and Russia via the North Polar route) it varies from temperate (south) to subarctic and arctic (north). 

Canada's population is approximately 35,675,834 (Oct 2014 est., Statistics Canada) and English and French are both official languages.  Canada is divided into 10 provinces and 3 territories*: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories*, Nova Scotia, Nunavut*, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Yukon*. 

Political Overview

There are three branches of Government in Canada at the national level: legislative, executive and judiciary. The executive branch comprises the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The Prime Minister is the leader of the party with the largest number of seats in the House of Commons.

The legislative branch consists of the House of Commons and the Senate. The House of Commons has 308 members, but will increase to 330 members at the next election scheduled for October 2019. General elections are held every four years. The Senate has 105 senators appointed on a regional basis. Its basic functions are to review proposed legislation and to operate as a forum for debating public issues. Senators are appointed by the Governor General, on the advice of the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party, secured a parliamentary majority in elections in October 2015.

Foreign Policy

One of Canada's highest priorities is its bilateral relationship (political, cultural and commercial) with the United States. Canada has been a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since its inception in 1949 and in recent years has, for example, in Afghanistan deployed combat forces from 2006 to 2011 and deployed military trainers support reconstruction and development until March 2014.  Canada was the third largest contributor to the maintenance of the NATO no-fly zone in Libya in 2011.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand work closely in the United Nations (UN) on issues ranging from security to development to human rights.  Often the three countries work together informally (known as the CANZ grouping) and sometimes with other likeminded nations.  This close cooperation in the UN is an important part of Australia's relationship with Canada.

Canada, like Australia, is an active member of the Commonwealth.  Canada worked closely with Australia during Australia's chairmanship (2011-13) to revitalise the organisation, including through the conclusion of the Charter of the Commonwealth and implementation of recommendations of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group.

As export-oriented economies with strong interests in agriculture and resources, Australia and Canada have a common interest in a fair, open and non-discriminatory world trade system.  Both countries were prominent players in the creation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947, and today both are active and influential members of its successor, the World Trade Organization (WTO), which was established in 1994.  In 1986, Australia invited Canada to participate in the Cairns Group, a unique and influential coalition of 20 agricultural exporting countries with a commitment to reforming agricultural trade.

Australia and Canada work closely together to promote a coherent and robust system of global trade and economic cooperation in key international organisations such as the G20, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and in many United Nations agencies. Canada joined APEC in its inaugural year (1989) and Vancouver hosted APEC in 1997.  Canada continues to take an active role in economic and technical cooperation, health, security and trade/investment liberalisation across the Asia-Pacific region. It is one of the twelve countries participating in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

Bilateral relations

The Australia-Canada relationship is mature, highly productive and broadly based. People to people contacts between our parliaments, government officials, private sectors, academics and communities are extensive and wide-ranging. We are both federal, large, geographically dispersed countries, with Westminster systems of government and a similar standard of living. Trade relations date from 1895, when the Government of Canada sent its first Trade Commissioner, John Short Larke to Sydney to establish an office. Diplomatic relations began formally in 1939 when, on the eve of the Second World War, Australia and Canada first agreed to exchange High Commissioners.

Australian and Canadian military forces fought side-by-side in the Sudan War, Boer War, both World Wars, the Korean War, the 1990-91 Gulf War and Afghanistan. They have also cooperated on peacekeeping operations, including Canada's contribution of over 600 troops to the Australian-led mission in Timor-Leste (East Timor) in 1999. Australia and Canada were among the first countries to join the global coalition against terrorism, and both countries committed military and development resources to stabilise and help rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq. Australia and Canada work closely to counter potential global terrorist threats through technical cooperation, information-sharing, exchanges of personnel and joint training.

Today, both countries face comparable public policy challenges in areas such as health, transport, indigenous issues, regional development, and managing the effects of the global economic crisis. The Canada-Australia Public Policy Initiative (CAPPI), launched by Prime Ministers Howard and Harper in 2007, brings together Australian and Canadian senior officials biennially for wide-ranging public policy discussions. The next meeting will be held in Canada in 2016. At any time there are a number of public servants placed in Australian and Canadian ministries on exchange.

A comprehensive range of bilateral agreements cover issues such as trade, social security, air services, consular services abroad and co-location of our missions overseas, mutual assistance in criminal matters and avoidance of double taxation. Consular cooperation is important, with Canada and Australia providing consular services to each other's nationals in around 30 countries where the other is not represented. During Foreign Minister Bishop’s visit to Canada in July 2015, she signed with her Canadian counterpart Foreign Minister Nicholson the Glasgow-Burchell Declaration on diplomatic cooperation, with both Ministers characterized as symbolic of the closeness of our relationship. The agreement establishes a formal framework for existing cooperation and identifies areas in which Australia and Canada might collaborate and cooperate closely. A working holiday program allows young people to travel and work for set periods in each other's country.

Development Cooperation

Australia has a close and productive development partnership with Canada.  In April 2015, DFAT entered into a new Partnership Arrangement on International Development with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD). The Partnership Arrangement reaffirms our commitment to work in a harmonised way when delivering programs together, and provides a renewed framework for dialogue and cooperation between the two Departments.

The Partnership Arrangement outlines Australia and Canada’s shared objectives in development and priorities for cooperation including sustainable economic growth (for example, through innovation, leveraging private sector finance, aid for trade and infrastructure development), global health issues, gender equality and coordination on global development policy agendas.

People to people links

Educational links are also strong with Universities Australia's 2014 International links data identifying 310 agreements between Australian universities and vocational providers and Canadian institutions covering student and apprentice exchanges, and academic and research collaboration. There are more than 130 members of the Association for Canadian Studies in Australia and New Zealand. Canadian student enrolments remained steady in 2014, with 4,252 enrolments in educational institutions in Australia. The majority of Canadian students were enrolled in higher education programmes and were studying in the fields of medicine, health and the sciences. There are also a number of Australian universities delivering Australian qualifications in Canada, including Charles Sturt University which has an in-market campus in Burlington, Ontario. Foreign Minister Bishop also witnessed during her July 2015 visit to Canada along with her counterpart, Foreign Minister Nicholson the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Universities Australia and Canada’s MITACS (a not-for-profit government-funded research and training organization that facilitates linkages between research/education and the private sector).  The agreement will allow Australian undergraduate students to participate in an elite research internship program in Canada for the first time. 

Economic Overview

Canada has a low population density and a vast wealth of natural resources.  The Canadian economy was the 11th biggest economy in the world by GDP in 2014 (according to the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook, April 2015 database). Australia was ranked 12th. Canada is highly integrated with the US economy, with each being the other's major trading partner. Canada has retained its ranking as the 15th most competitive nation economically among 144 countries ranked by the World Economic Forum (in the 2014-2015 WEF Global Competitiveness Report).

Trade and investment

Canada is Australia's 23rd-largest merchandise trading partner, with two-way trade amounting to around A$3.4 billion in 2014 - A$2.1 billion in imports to Australia and approximately A$1.2 billion in exports to Canada. Top performing exports in 2014 included alcoholic beverages, beef, non-ferrous waste and scrap, and Meat (excl beef). Companies exporting to Canada include food processors; major wine producers; consumer products retailers; packaging; software; financial services and processing; energy and mining services and equipment; and major universities. The top three merchandise imports from Canada in 2014 were railway vehicles, sulphur and iron pyrites and medicaments. Total services trade was valued at around A$1.9 billion in 2014, with Australia exporting A$877 million in services to Canada in that year. Though Canada's trade regime is generally liberal and transparent, tariff peaks and other distorting trade mechanisms apply to domestically sensitive agricultural sectors such as dairy and poultry. Tariff rates can be found on the APEC Tariff Database.

Investment ties between Australia and Canada are substantial and Canada offers a stable investment environment for Australian business. Australian investment in Canada was valued at A$45.4 billion in 2014, with over 80 Australian companies operating in Canada. Canadian investment in Australia was valued at over A$35.2 billion in 2014, mostly in resources and manufacturing.

Australia  will host the next Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Sydney in the first quarter of 2017. Previous Forums have been held in Sydney (November 2010), Toronto (July 2012),Melbourne (February 2014) and Vancouver (July 2015). The forum is an exercise in 'private sector diplomacy' bringing together business, academia and other non-government players to contribute to the development of the bilateral relationship. It is modelled on similar gatherings Australia has with its closest political and economic partners, notably the Australian American Leadership Dialogue.

Australian Trade and Investment Strategies

Australia and Canada grant each other preferential tariff rates on a limited range of products agreed under the Canada-Australia Trade Agreement (CANATA), established in 1960 and amended in 1973.  As CANATA pre-dates the multilateral trading system, most of its provisions have been superseded by tariff reductions achieved by negotiation in the WTO.

Australia and Canada are both participating in the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. The negotiating parties are committed to creating a 21st century trade agreement in which tariffs are eliminated on all trade.

Austrade has offices in Toronto and Vancouver to pursue Australia's trade and investment priorities.

Information on doing business and opportunities  in Canada

Chamber of Commerce

The Canadian Australian Chamber of Commerce (CACC) was launched on 20 October 2005. The Chamber is an independent, non-profit organisation that aims to contribute to increasing the level of trade and investment between Australia and Canada.  Membership is free of charge to interested parties.

High level visits

There have been frequent high level visits, including:

To Australia

2014: Foreign Minister Baird and then Finance Minister Flaherty (for the Australia Canada Economic Leadership Forum, February); Trade Minister Fast (for the G20 Trade Ministers Meeting, July); Prime Minister Harper (for the G20 Summit, November).

2012:  Trade Minister Fast.

2011:  Prime Minister Harper and Foreign Minister Baird (for CHOGM).  Then Defence Minister MacKay.

2010:  Then Immigration Minister Kenney.

2007:  Prime Minister Harper (when he became the first Canadian prime minister to address the Australian parliament).

To Canada

July 2015: Foreign Minister Bishop (for the Australia Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Vancouver).

February-March 2015: Trade and Investment Minister Robb and mining-focused business delegation including indigenous representatives (for the 2015 Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada Convention). Mr Robb also attended the 2015 Vancouver International Wine Festival (Australia was the feature country).

June 2014:  Prime Minister Abbott and Trade and Investment Minister Robb and business delegation.

April 2013:  Then Governor General, HE Ms Quentin Bryce.

July 2012:  Then Minister for Resources, the Hon Martin Ferguson (for the Australia Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Toronto).

June 2012:  Then Minister for Family and Community Services, the Hon Jenny Macklin and then Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Jason Clare.

September 2011:  Then Minister for Trade, the Hon Craig Emerson.

2010:  Then Treasurer, the Hon Wayne Swan (for the Toronto G20 Summit in 2010).

Last Updated: 3 February 2015