Canadian travellers spent more money in the U.S. and abroad in the second quarter as more permissive duty-free exemptions kicked in. 

Statistics Canada reported Wednesday that the country's international travel deficit with the rest of the world grew by $91 million to $4.2 billion in the March to June quarter.

Spending by Canadians outside the country grew by 1.5 per cent to a seasonally adjusted $8.5 billion.

More than half of that —  $5.2 billion — was spent by Canadians travelling in the U.S. as figures showed that the number of Canadians taking overnight automobile trips to the U.S. in the second quarter hit 3.4 million — a 20-year high.

Cross-border travel figures for the month of June alone showed that Canadians made a record 1.9 million overnight trips to the U.S. That was the highest level since 1972, when Statistics Canada first began keeping records of such travel.

Exemptions sweetened

Without specifically spelling out a reason for the uptick in cross-border trips, StatsCan did note that as of June 1, the duty-free exemptions for Canadians returning from trips abroad were sweetened. 

For those away from the country for 24 hours or more, Canadian travellers could bring back $200 worth of goods duty-free, up from $50. For those away at least 48 hours, the exemption doubled from $400 to $800.

Statistics Canada reported last week that retail sales in Canada in June fell 0.4 per cent from the month before. Economists said the increase in cross-border shopping likely played a role.

Local chambers of commerce across the country and the Retail Council of Canada have asked Ottawa to make changes that would help them combat cross-border shopping.

They want the federal government to eliminate the tariffs charged on imported finished goods which, they say, add to the costs that Canadian retailers must factor in when they set retail prices.

With files from The Canadian Press