Canada achieved a trade surplus of $290 million in February as exports grew by 3.6 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. It was the first surplus since September of last year and followed a $337 million deficit in January.

However, the export picture for the first quarter of 2014 is complicated by the truckers’ strike that shut down shipments through the port of Vancouver for much of March, according to TD economist Leslie Preston.

There was a 4.4 per cent increase in shipments to the U.S. and exports to Canada’s largest trading partner are up 11.8 per cent from this time last year.

“Today's number is further evidence that a strengthening U.S. economy is helping to lift export activity in Canada,” Preston said.

Canada exported more motor vehicles and parts as factories both sides of the border ended their holiday shutdowns and resumed production. There was also an increase in sale of energy products, with exports of crude oil and bitumen up 8 per cent, though natural gas exports fell.

Exports to countries other than the United States were up 1.1 per cent to $9.9 billion, including a 6.8 per cent increase in exports to the European Union. However, Canada's merchandise trade with most of the world is still below where it was a year ago.

Imports grew 2.1 per cent to $42.1 billion on higher imports of energy products, motor vehicles and parts, as well as industrial machinery, equipment and parts.

Both imports and exports have been in recovery since hitting a low point in May 2009, but Canada has had a trade deficit for much of the past four years, swinging only occasionally into surplus.

Preston believes trade will make a “modest positive contribution” to growth in the first quarter.