Exports, retail driving P.E.I. economic recovery

P.E.I. is a little ahead of most of Canada in its economic recovery following the most severe pandemic lockdowns, but some of the most difficult hurdles may be yet to come.

Exports up for year-to-date

Seafood exports boomed in July. (CBC)

P.E.I. is a little ahead of most of Canada in its economic recovery following the most severe pandemic lockdowns, but some of the most difficult hurdles may be yet to come.

The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council released an outlook for the province Friday. One of the biggest strengths in that outlook is exports.

"P.E.I. is actually the only Canadian province whose exports have been higher this year, in 2020, than they were in 2019, through July," said APEC economist Kevin MacLean.

That's not to say that exports did not have a down time. In seafood, for example, exports were down 24 per cent in the second quarter of the year, about $21 million off the 2019 mark. But that sector came roaring back in July, with a 30 per cent jump over 2019, putting seafood exports up slightly for the year-to-date.

Retailers recorded record sales in June. (Tony Davis/CBC)

But another major export sector, aerospace, could take years to recover. Exports in aerospace are down 60 per cent for the year, about $120 million worth.

"We're obviously not back to normal as far as air travel goes and we're not going to be for a long time," said MacLean.

"This is going to continue to weigh on the aerospace sector in P.E.I., particularly that maintenance, repair and overhaul business. That's going to take a big hit."

Pent-up demand

Like seafood exports, retail also saw a big bounce.

In June, sales rose to an all-time high, more than $220 million.

"There was a little bit of a surprise in the amount of strength in those retail sales numbers, but I think at the end of the day part of this is pent-up demand," said MacLean.

"So, previous purchases from March, and April and even to a lesser extent May that were deferred due to whether it was stores being closed or whether it was consumers not being comfortable making those purchases."

MacLean expects those sales to moderate in the coming months.

Recovery could slow from here

Job losses are now sitting at about five per cent below February levels, up from a peak loss of about 14 per cent.

Jobs in tourism-related industries, such as restaurants, may take longer to recover. (CBC)

While that recovery is better than most of the country, the jobs that are currently missing are almost all in tourism-related industries.

"Anything tourism related is going to take longer," said MacLean.

Which is to say, the easier part of the recovery may already be in the rear-view mirror for the province. The sectors facing the biggest hardships now — tourism and aerospace — could be a long way from getting back to the levels of economic activity they were enjoying in 2019.

More from CBC P.E.I.

About the Author

Kevin Yarr is the early morning web journalist at CBC P.E.I. You can reach him at


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