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5489.0 - International Merchandise Trade, Australia, Concepts, Sources and Methods, 2001  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 30/05/2001   
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Contents >> Chapter 1. Introduction

PURPOSE OF THIS PUBLICATION

1.1 International merchandise trade statistics are used extensively to monitor Australia's export and import performance and they are a key input to Australia's balance of payments and national accounts statistics.

1.2 Australia's international merchandise trade statistics are compiled in broad agreement with United Nations' (UN) recommendations. However, the UN standards are not easily accessible, nor are they written from an Australian perspective. Accordingly, this publication aims to provide users of Australia's international merchandise trade statistics with a comprehensive explanation of the:

  • underlying conceptual framework;
  • definitions and treatments of special cases;
  • classification of data items;
  • data sources and methods;
  • confidentiality practices applied;
  • presentation and publication of statistics;
  • data quality measures used;
  • relationship to other economic statistics; and
  • emerging issues likely to impact on future trade statistics.

1.3 As elements of this publication may become dated over time, reviews of its content will be conducted periodically. Electronic versions of the publication (found on the ABS Web site in the Statistical Concepts Library (Cat. no. 1361.0.30.001)) will be updated progressively as changes occur. The paper publication will only be revised and reissued after significant revisions. Users are informed about current trade-related issues and any changes to trade concepts and methods through inclusions in the latest issues of the quarterly publication International Merchandise Trade, Australia (Cat. no. 5422.0).

USERS AND USES OF STATISTICS

1.4 A wide variety of government and private sector clients use international merchandise trade statistics and require information on the concepts, sources and methods on which they are based. They range from users who require broad general information about the main aggregates to those with highly specialised needs relating to particular commodities of interest. The main categories of users and their requirements are set out in box 1.1.
1.1 USERS AND USES OF INTERNATIONAL MERCHANDISE TRADE STATISTICS
  • balance of payments, national accounts and price index compilers in the ABS who use the data as input into the balance of payments, national accounts and various price indexes - a detailed understanding of the concepts, sources and methods used; current and historical practice regarding particular data items; and areas of possible future change;
  • Commonwealth and State government agencies who use the data for regulatory and general economic policy purposes, for monitoring commodity trade flows, to assist in the development of trade policy including trade negotiations, monitoring trade agreements and settling trade disputes, and as input to infrastructure planning purposes e.g. development of seaports, airports etc. - these agencies require relevant details to support their interpretation of the data;
  • private sector businesses and individuals who use the data to monitor import penetration and export performance, to analyse market shares and to assess import competition - the need is for a broad understanding of the conceptual framework, how the data are compiled, the main outputs and very detailed data;
  • international agencies such as the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) - while uses vary by agency, generally these agencies need to have a reasonably detailed understanding of all aspects of the statistics, to compare the extent of adherence by Australia and other countries to international standards and practices and to determine whether comparisons are valid;
  • international merchandise trade compilers in other countries - a reasonably detailed understanding of Australian concepts, sources and methods, with more detail on particular items, to compare with their own estimates and practices;
  • financial sector economists, national and international commentators, and public sector agencies in other countries - a reasonably detailed understanding of the conceptual framework, the sources and how the data are compiled, to support their interpretation of the statistics and provide advice to their organisations and clients;
  • financial journalists - the need is for a broad understanding of the conceptual framework, how the data are compiled and the main outputs, to support media comment on Australia's merchandise trade flows with the rest of the world;
  • academic researchers - a reasonably detailed understanding of the conceptual framework, the sources and how the data are compiled;
  • teachers / teaching academics - a good understanding of the conceptual framework, how the data are compiled and the main outputs, to support teaching about Australia's economy and its relationship with the rest of the world; and
  • students at high school level or undergraduate level at university - the need is for a broad understanding of the conceptual framework, how the data are compiled and the main outputs, to gain an appreciation of Australia's merchandise trade flows with the rest of the world.

INTERNATIONAL STATISTICAL STANDARDS

1.5 The ABS has always attempted to follow, wherever possible, the international standards relating to international merchandise trade and other economic statistics. The reasons for this are:
  • domestic and foreign analysts will be assured that Australia's official international merchandise trade statistics comply with objective, coherent international standards that reflect current analytic needs;
  • Australia is a member of the international community and users need comparable data between countries;
  • Australia, as a member of organisations such as the UN and OECD, needs to provide its economic statistics in conformity with the standards set by those organisations; and
  • to validate the quality of Australian data, the ABS periodically compares and reconciles its data with those of other countries. Use of international standards facilitates bilateral reconciliations.

1.6 The conceptual framework followed for Australia's international merchandise trade statistics is consistent with the international statistical standards set out in the UN publication International Merchandise Trade Statistics: Concepts and Definitions Series M, No. 52, Rev.2 (IMTS, Rev.2), issued in late 1998. The purpose of IMTS, Rev.2 is to provide clear recommendations to national compilers on international trade concepts and definitions, which take into account the availability of relevant data and the collection procedures used in member countries.

1.7 The original version of these standards was issued by the UN in 1970 and previously revised in 1982. Changes between the 1982 revision and IMTS, Rev.2 were made in recognition of the need for closer harmonisation with the statistical concepts, definitions, classifications and terminology contained in the revised System of National Accounts, 1993 (SNA93) and the Balance of Payments Manual, Fifth edition (BPM5). The changes made increase the comparability with other economic statistics compiled within the frameworks of SNA93 and BPM5. However, the standards are not fully harmonised.

1.8 Australia's international merchandise trade statistics essentially conform with the concepts and definitions contained in IMTS, Rev.2. In the few instances where Australian reporting practices differ from the standards, the differences do not seriously impact on recorded trade values and no adjustments are considered necessary. The changes introduced in IMTS, Rev.2 were implemented in Australian international merchandise trade statistics from July 1999 (1).


(1) The ABS article, Revisions to Standards for International Trade Statistics, published in the June quarter 1999 issue of International Merchandise Trade, Australia (Cat. no. 5422.0), explains the changes in Australia's international merchandise trade statistics that occurred with the change to the IMTS, Rev.2 basis.

STRUCTURE OF THIS PUBLICATION

1.9 Chapter 2 outlines the conceptual framework used for the compilation of Australia's international merchandise trade statistics. International merchandise trade is defined and the treatment of special cases summarised. Australia's territory, the trade system used, the methods of valuation applied, the time of recording and the bases of the commodity and partner country classifications used, are explained.

1.10 Chapter 3 provides more detailed definitions, including some data items collected and describes the treatment of some special cases.

1.11 Chapter 4 explains the commodity, industry and country classifications used to collect, compile and disseminate trade statistics.

1.12 Chapter 5 describes the data sources and methods used to compile trade statistics, including the statistical details obtained from Customs records and the processing, editing and aggregation of that information.

1.13 Chapter 6 outlines how trade data are confidentialised prior to their release. It explains the legal basis for the passive approach to confidentiality used, the types of restrictions that are imposed, the procedures used to manage confidentiality and the effect of confidentiality on the statistics produced.

1.14 Chapter 7 describes the dissemination of trade statistics. It details the release practices used, the revisions policy, what information is available, the publications produced and the various other forms of dissemination that are used.

1.15 Chapter 8 examines the quality of Australia's international merchandise trade statistics. It analyses the accuracy and reliability of trade statistics and the factors influencing quality and data comparability between partner countries.

1.16 Chapter 9 explains the relationships between Australia's trade statistics and its balance of payments, national accounts and import and export price indexes, which all use trade data.

1.17 Chapter 10 discusses some emerging issues which are likely to affect these statistics in the future. These include developments in data sources and international standards.

1.18 The appendixes provide details of the units of quantity (see Appendix 1) used and lists of countries (see Appendix 2) and country groups (see Appendix 3) for which detailed trade statistics are currently compiled and disseminated.

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