Find the information and resources needed to tackle common challenges facing international trade businesses, as well as tips on how to service the new COVID economy.
Import and Export businesses face unique challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Alongside the developing situation across Canada, they must work to secure supply chains, navigate the problems posed by travel restrictions and ensure the safety of team members in different global settings.
As well as the tips in this section, Small Business BC’s Import/Export Advisors are also standing by to assist, connecting you with expert trade advice when you need it.
Latest Update - November 3rd, 2020: Applications open for updated CanExport SMEs program.
On this page:
Programs to Help Import/Export Businesses
Import/export businesses face some specific challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some programs that can help.
Export Navigator Program
The Export Navigator Program offers free expert guidance to businesses on exporting. Whether your business already exports at volume or you run a smaller enterprise that hasn’t yet crossed borders, you will be put in touch with a helpful advisor who will demystify the export process. Although the current climate has disrupted the flow of goods and services, your advisor will discuss the ways you can diversify your market and strengthen your business during this time.
The program is available to all B.C. businesses located outside of Greater Vancouver and Greater Victoria and offers specialized advisors for indigenous, youth (under 30 years of age), and women-owned businesses.
CanExport SMEs Program
The Government of Canada has pivoted the CanExport SMEs program to help small businesses access global markets when international travel is restricted due to COVID-19.
Small businesses can apply for funding to:
- Develop and expand their e-commerce presence by covering partial costs associated with online sales platforms and digital strategy consulting, as well as advertising and search engine optimization
- Attend virtual trade shows and other business-to-business events
- Navigate new COVID-19-related trade barriers by helping pay for new international market certifications and requirements
- Small Business BC’s Import/Export services provide business in the Lower Mainland with expert trade advice relevant for your small business.
- Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service has experts in 160 cities worldwide. They are here to help your business navigate this time of uncertainty and provide country-specific advice and guidance to help you mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.
- EDC's COVID-19: Managing the Impact on Global Supply Chains is a free webinar to help business owners learn how COVID-19 is affecting global trade and how businesses can protect themselves.
Adapting your Business
If your Import/Export business is suffering due to COVID-19, consider adapting your business to better suit market demands. . There is currently a demand for PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) as a result of COVID-19, which offers opportunity for Import/Export businesses, but be aware of the regulations.
Find out how your business can help:
- Request or Donate Supplies to Support B.C.'s COVID-19 Response
- Government of Canada's needed goods and services
View SBBC's Supplying Essential Goods and Services to the Government of Canada webinar for tips and advice about supplying goods and services to the government.
Don't forget to check out Small Business BC's PPE Marketplace, where we connect businesses with suppliers of non-medical PPE.
Get more ideas about adapting and pivoting your business during COVID-19.
If you sell a product online and think you could start selling internationally, Market Finder is a tool from Google to help small businesses expand their reach. It can help you identify the best markets for your product or service, prepare for new markets, and find the right digital marketing solutions.
FAQs for Import/Export Businesses
What do I do if there is a delay in shipping from overseas?
Air and sea transportation have been strongly affected by COVID-19, resulting in likely delays in shipping. Sea transportation in particular is seeing extreme delays, which has led to an increase in air transportation rates.
If your business relies on shipping, try sourcing your needed materials and/or delivering your products locally only, as this will help reduce shipping difficulties and additional charges to you and your customers. If this isn’t possible, carefully consider the most up-to-date shipping costs and estimated delivery timelines from all available outlets before making a commitment to ensure you are making the best choice for your needs.
Communicate to your customers any changes in your business’ shipping to manage expectations and mitigate customer service requests.
What do I do if my supplier has stopped working?
Countries have been affected differently by COVID-19 and governments have placed a variety of restrictions that might affect the production of goods. It is important to keep in mind the fact manufacturing has completely stopped in some countries.
Your first step should be to try and source similar products from other suppliers as soon as possible. Sourcing locally-made products, if available, will result in more dependable delivery without overseas shipping.
If your supply chain needs affect your ability to provide products to your customers, manage expectations and mitigate customer service requests by communicating this to them.
How can I continue importing products into Canada?
While restrictions have been placed on non-essential trips, the flow of commercial products has as of yet not been affected by COVID-19. Canadian customs authorities are currently still accepting shipments from overseas. As a matter of fact, the payment of taxes and duties has been deferred at this time.
How can I import medical supplies into Canada during COVID-19?
The Government of Canada has issued an interim order regarding the importation and sale of medical devices for use in relation to COVID-19.
Please refer to this guide from Pacific Custom Brokers on specifics for the importation of medical supplies.
If you need advice on any aspect of the import/export process, Small Business BC’s Import/Export Advisors are standing by to assist.