Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Resources are still a major pillar of B.C. economy: study

Forestry export values to decline while energy exports will increase over next five years, BCBC predicts
Anticipated increases in energy exports expected thanks to projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. | Trans Mountain

Forestry, mining, energy and agriculture account for 45 per cent of B.C.’s international exports, with services accounting for another 45 per cent, according to a new report by the Business Council of B.C. (BCBC).

Over the next five years, a steep decline in forestry export values can be expected, while energy exports can be expected to increase as much as 30 per cent, the study forecasts.

In 2022, B.C.'s international exports hit $83 billion – a $19 billion gain over a five-year period from 2017 to 2022.

Going forward, the export value of B.C.’s forestry sector could shrink by $3.9 billion – 29 per cent -- over the next five years, while the energy sector, notably LNG exports, is expected to account for up to 30 per cent of the growth in international exports over the next five years, adding at least $11.8 billion in value.

“LNG is going to be so huge,” said Ken Peacock, BCBC’s chief economist and co-author of the report, The Foundations of Provincial Prosperity. “Energy provides such a big lift.”

“The significance of the B.C. energy sector is inescapable,” the report notes. “Energy exports have risen by billions and are poised to rise by billions more when LNG production begins later in the decade. The energy sector is set to provide by far the biggest lift to B.C.’s exports in the 2020s.”

BC export values

The study takes a deep dive on B.C.’s economy, analyzing how much each sector is worth to the provincial economy in terms of export values. It illustrates just how diversified B.C.’s economy has become, but also underscores just how important legacy resources industries still are to the B.C. economy.

“The intent is to provide a sense for policymakers that resources are still 45 per cent of the base,” Peacock said. “It’s important to grow the emerging (sectors), but let’s also pay attention to what we currently export and grow those. Do not forget what our existing strengths are.”

The resources sectors accounted for 60 per cent of the total increase in exports between 2017 and 2022, adding $11.6 billion in value.

“This finding belies the often heard claim that natural resources are not a growth sector for an advanced economy jurisdiction like B.C. or Canada,” the report states.

“The energy sector stands out, owing to its massive $7 billion export gain. Record-high prices turbocharged exports of both coal and natural gas.

“Note that strong advances in electricity, oil, biofuels, natural gas pipeline transportation services, and oil pipeline services also factored into the remarkable surge in provincial energy exports. Collectively, these latter industries rival the export revenues of the coal industry or the natural gas industry, underscoring the importance of energy-related transportation services and other smaller elements of the broad energy sector.”

future exports

Services account for 45 per cent of B.C. international exports, which is “a notably higher proportion than in other provinces.

“This mainly reflects B.C.’s larger transportation services, film and TV, tourism and education export sectors.”

Services include tourism, education, professional services, film and TV and “gateway” industries (ports, railways, shipping, etc.)

Gateway services provide a kind of dual role – attracting foreign receipts for its services while also facilitating exports for other sectors.

“This important and sometimes overlooked sector makes up 9 per cent of total provincial exports,” the study says of gateway services. “The gateway is unique in that it directly generates export revenues and also enables the shipping of B.C.’s merchandise exports.”

According to Duncan Wilson, vice president of environment and external affairs for the Vancouver Port Authority, $300 billion worth of trade flowed through the port in 2022 – about $800 million per day.

All resource sectors in B.C., except forestry, are expected to see significant growth over the next five years.

“Recognizing the B.C. forestry industry is facing at least a 20 per cent reduction in available fibre supply in the coming years, and that lumber prices will likely be lower in 2026/27 than in 2021/22, we estimate exports in the forestry sub-sector could decline by $3.9 billion (-29%) over the next five years,” the report forecasts.

“Because forestry is a high productivity industry, the contraction in what has been B.C.’s largest export sector will weigh on per capita GDP growth and regional economic activity.”

The BCBC report came out the same day the B.C. government announced its new trade strategy, which aims to grow export markets for B.C. companies, with a particular focus on Mexico, Taiwan and Vietnam.

According to the B.C. government, B.C. exports were valued at $65 billion in 2022 – a 20 per cent increase over 2021, with much of the increase driven by increased exports to the U.S., Japan, South Korea and India. Energy accounted for 59 per cent of the increases between 2021 and 2022, machinery and equipment 24 per cent, and agriculture and food 24 per cent.

Tourism is one sector that has seen dramatic decreases, in recent years, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism “exports” are services offered in B.C. but which are paid for by non-residents.

“Prior to the pandemic, tourism accounted for about 9 per cent of B.C.’s international exports, with food services, accommodation services, and transportation services ranking as the largest industries within the overall tourism export sector,” the report notes. “During the pandemic, tourism export earnings plummeted and have yet to fully recover. International tourism exports plunged by as much as $5 billion during the pandemic and had only partly recovered by 2022.”

The BCBC study organized more than 300 industries into ten “conceptually aligned export sectors.” Exports include services provided in the province, but which are purchased by non-Canadians, like the tuition and rent paid by foreign students studying in B.C., or the engineering or architectural services provided by B.C. companies but paid for by a non-Canadian customer.

Here are some sectoral shares of total B.C. exports, in percentages:

  • non-resource manufacturing, 10 per cent;
  • technology services, 3.7 per cent;
  • professional services, 9 per cent;
  • film and TV production, 3.2 per cent;
  • education services for international students, 2.5 per cent.

[email protected]