Chemicals and chemical products (Total)


This profile provides a brief overview of the overall chemical and chemical products industry. More detailed information is available for select sub-industries in the other industry profiles available on this website.

The chemical industry is a diverse group of manufacturing companies that operate in all regions of Canada. Companies in this industry exhibit one of two features. One group uses chemical reactions to convert one substance into a different substance. The second group, blends a variety of inputs to produce a functional product for specific end-use applications.

According to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), the chemical industry is identified as NAICS 325. Within this grouping the 4-digit sub-industries are:

Industrial Chemicals

3251 Basic Chemicals

Basic chemical companies transform raw, natural resources like natural gas, crude oil, minerals and metals into organic (petrochemicals) or inorganic chemicals. Also within the basic chemical industry are those companies that start with one chemical substance and subject it to further chemical reactions to create second-order basic chemicals, known as derivatives.

3252 Synthetic Resins and Fibres:

These companies use basic chemicals produced from companies in NAICS 3251 and polymerize them into synthetic resins and fibres. In some cases companies in this industry are integrated (ie., they produce basic chemicals and then convert them into polymers), and in other cases companies buy the basic chemicals from a different company. For both of these industries, the companies tend to be large, multinational firms.

Agricultural Chemicals

3253 Fertilizers and Pesticides:

Fertilizer production is quite similar in nature to basic chemical production. Raw resources are chemically reacted to produce the desired species. Pesticides involve an active ingredient that provides the desired pest-control functionality blended with other substances in order to create a product that is useable by customers. In Canada, there is little production of pesticide active ingredients, and most of the industry is involved in blending, only. Companies in this industry also tend to be large, multinational firms.


3254 Pharmaceuticals and Medicines:

Pharmaceuticals also involve an active ingredient that provides the basic intended functionality, blended with other substances to put that active ingredient into a form that is easy for patients to use.

Formulated Products

3255 Paints, Adhesives and Sealants

3256 Soaps and Toilet Preparations

3259 Other Chemical Products

For the most part, formulated product manufacturing processes do not involve chemical reactions, but rather involve the blending of a number of chemical products together to meet a particular end-use application. This part of the industry is characterized by a predominance of small and medium-sized firms.

Within each 4-digit NAICS industry, there are further subdivisions into more specific industry groups. The distribution of industry shipments by each of the major sub-industry groupings is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Chemical Industry Structure, 2010 (percentage of total)

the long description is located below the image
Description of Figure 1
Figure 1: Chemical Industry Structure, 2010 (percentage of total)
  Shipments Exports Imports
Source: Statistics Canada
Industrial Chemicals 48.8 38.9 56.5
Agricultural Chemicals 9.31 4.80 5.70
Pharmaceuticals 20.4 32.6 22.1
Formulated Products 21.7 23.7 15.7

Size and Structure of the Industry

In 2010, there were about 2730 establishments in Canada in the chemical industry. This generated shipments valued at $42.4 billion and employed 77 670 people. See the statistical tables on the statistics page for additional information. Compared to all 21 3-digit NAICS industries in Canada, chemicals ranks fifth according to value of shipments and ninth according to employment.


In 2010, exports totalled $27.9 billion and imports were valued at $40.9 billion. On the basis of exports, chemicals ranks second among all 3-digit NAICS industries in Canada. Canadian exports of chemicals grew from 25 percent of shipments in 1990 to 64 percent in 2010 (Figure 2). Imports have also increased significantly during this period. In 1990, imports satisfied 31 percent of total domestic consumption, and by 2010 this had risen to 72 percent.

Figure 2: Trade (percentages)

Figure 2: Trade (percentages) (the long description is located below the image)
Description of Figure 2
Figure 2: Trade (percentages)
Year Exports as Percentage of Shipments Imports as Percentage of Domestic Market Trade Balance as Percentage of Shipments
Source: Statistics Canada
1995 44.4 52.3 -16.5
1996 45.7 54.5 -19.2
1997 48.0 56.8 -20.3
1998 49.2 60.9 -29.9
1999 49.7 62.3 -33.3
2000 50.1 61.1 -28.4
2001 51.7 62.6 -29.3
2002 49.9 61.8 -31.4
2003 47.8 59.9 -30.2
2004 51.5 60.9 -23.9
2005 55.2 63.2 -21.7
2006 58.0 65.3 -20.9
2007 67.1 71.8 -16.8
2008 65.3 71.2 -20.6
2009 64.5 73.2 -32.7
2010 63.7 71.9 -29.5

The United States is the dominant export partner, being the destination for 76 percent of exports and the source of 60 percent of imports. The next largest export markets are: United Kingdom (4 percent), China (3 percent) and Brazil (2 percent). The next largest import sources were: Germany (5 percent), Switzerland (4 percent) and France (4 percent).

Regional Distribution

Over the past 10 years, the regional distribution of the industry has not changed dramatically. In 2009, 41 percent of all establishments were located in Ontario, 27 percent in Quebec, 16 percent in the Prairie provinces (mainly Alberta), 12 percent in British Columbia, and 4 percent in the Atlantic provinces (Figure 3). On the basis of shipments, the distribution changes, primarily due to the presence of some very large production facilities in Alberta, to Ontario (45 percent), Prairies (31 percent), Quebec (20 percent), British Columbia (3 percent) and Atlantic Canada (1 percent).

Figure 3: Regional Distribution of Establishments, 2009 (percentage of total)

Figure 3: Regional Distribution of Establishments, 2009 (percentage of total) (the long description is located below the image)
Description of Figure 3
Figure 3: Regional Distribution of Establishments, 2009 (percentage of total)
Region/Province Percent of total
Source: Statistics Canada
Atlantic 3.6
Quebec 27.4
Ontario 41.4
Prairies 15.8
British Columbia 11.8