5498.0.55.001 - Information Paper: International Trade - Ensuring Data Quality, 2008  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/03/2016  Ceased
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This booklet:

  • describes the data quality checks applied to international trade data prior to their publication
  • explains procedures and charges applying to the investigation of client data queries.

International trade statistics are compiled from information supplied to the Australian Customs Service by exporters and importers or their agents. There are approximately 3 million export transactions and 13 million import transactions recorded each year, many of which are of small value. Due to the sheer volume of transactions involved, and the limited resources available to undertake checks, the bulk of transactions included in international trade statistics are 'as reported to Customs'.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) quality assurance resources are predominantly focussed on editing large value records. These edits are designed to ensure the quality and integrity of international trade data to at least the six digit level of the Harmonized System (HS).

The ABS recognises the importance of international trade statistics to a wide variety of statistical users. Except where data are protected by confidentiality restrictions, aggregate data are made available at a very detailed level. For example, the value of trade for each HS commodity code (eight digit for exports and ten digit for imports) is available by Australian port, by country, by overseas port. However, the ABS is unable to guarantee that the quality of this fine level data is sufficient for all purposes for which it is used.

While the ABS receives many queries on detailed data from clients, it is neither practicable nor cost effective for the ABS to investigate all queries. This booklet sets out the approach adopted by the ABS to handle client data queries on international trade data. A form is included to enable clients to request investigations into particular data. Clients should familiarise themselves with the conditions under which these investigations are undertaken and the general quality checks performed on the data prior to its publication.


The ABS uses a multi-stage computerised editing system to ensure the quality of international trade data for release. A set of system checks identify records with possible errors for further scrutiny and correction where appropriate.

The types of data quality checks that are applied include:
  • review of all imports transactions with a value of $3 million or more and exports transactions with a value of $5 million or more. The details (including commodity code, country, state, value and quantity) of these transactions are checked and where necessary, confirmed with the exporter, importer or agent
  • checks on all transactions to ensure that valid and up-to-date commodity, country, state and port codes are reported, also that all mandatory fields are completed and are in the correct format
  • internal consistency checks e.g. to identify records where the gross weight is less than the net quantity, or to ensure that an export of aviation fuel for consumption on an international route has 'air' as its mode of transport and an 'airport' as its Australian port
  • tailored edits for specific commodities and/or countries and/or states. Examples include checks of: minerals which are only mined in certain states; prohibited or illegal imports; and exports of commodities not manufactured in Australia
  • automatic adjustment of known recurring reporting errors. These may be applied as a result of an investigation which identified misreporting of commodity, country, state or quantity by particular exporters and importers or their agents.

In addition, the international trade computing system stores unit value (value divided by quantity) ranges for every commodity for which a quantity is required to be reported. The unit value ranges are calculated from previous transactions. Transactions with values above a threshold and with unit values outside of expected unit value ranges are checked. Unit value edits are designed to identify errors in the reported value, quantity or classification of large value records.

Once all transactions are edited, aggregate tables are produced and the output compared with previous results. Aggregate data are investigated to explain and if necessary, correct any unusual movements. For example, duplicate records may be detected and deleted or significant commodity movements may be explained by aggregate price or volume changes.

The ABS may also examine the quality of data reported for particular commodities or chapters of the HS classification (i.e. two-digit level). After contact with the relevant exporters or importers, a variety of solutions, including tailored edit checks, may be implemented. These investigations are time consuming and resource intensive and will only be undertaken for significant commodities or chapters, where there are known to be frequent and significant reporting problems.


After the release of monthly trade statistics, the ABS may receive a number of client requests to investigate cases of possible misreporting. Most requests relate to potential errors at the most detailed level of the commodity classification. The most frequently amended fields resulting from investigations are quantity, followed by commodity classification and country details.

Client requests for data investigations are only considered if the value of the data queried exceeds $250,000 in each month queried and the cost of the investigation is met by the client.

Clients seeking an investigation should be aware that the following factors will limit the ability of the ABS to confirm/amend trade data:
  • the goods descriptions provided on the export or import documentation is often not sufficient to determine the correct code at the most detailed level of the commodity classification. In these cases, the ABS is usually unable to obtain sufficient information to amend the classification code originally provided
  • transaction records are only available for amending for a limited period, due to the costs involved in processing large amounts of data. Any month's export and import transactions are only available for amendment during processing of the following six months. As a result, data quality queries which are not identified within those periods will not be investigated.


Requests for investigations which satisfy the $250,000 per month threshold are costed and investigated in two stages. Charges are payable prior to the commencement of each stage. Clients should understand that the payment of fees at each stage does not guarantee that amendments will be made to the data.

Stage 1 - Initial Investigation

A fee, available on request, will be charged for the initial investigation. The fee covers the computing costs incurred in interrogating the transactions file, and the staff costs incurred in assessing the query in terms of the following criteria:
  • evidence that there is a significant error or a significant systemic reporting problem
  • significance of the potential amendments to value or classification in terms of the aggregate trade data to which it contributes.

Data queries which do not satisfy these criteria, or which are likely to place an unacceptable burden upon data providers, will not be further investigated. Within ten days of receipt of payment for Stage 1 of the investigation, the client will be provided with either:
  • a written explanation of the reasons for not proceeding further with the investigation into the query, or
  • a written quote outlining the cost of undertaking a Stage 2 investigation to resolve the query, together with an indication of the time required to do the work. The quote will be based on the estimated staff hours, computing costs and associated overheads required to complete the investigation and amend the data, where applicable.

The charges will vary depending on the number of commodity items involved and the complexity of the investigation.

Stage 2 - Detailed Investigation

Stage 2 involves a detailed investigation of the transactions covered by the data query. This will include direct contact with the exporters and importers or their agents to verify the information reported to the Australian Customs Service. Once the investigations are complete, the client will receive written advice of the outcome.


Requests for investigations should be made by completing and submitting the form contained in the PDF. The completed form should be sent to:
      The International Trade in Goods Manager
      Balance of Payments and International Trade Section
      Australian Bureau of Statistics
      GPO Box 66
      Hobart TAS 7001

If you wish to discuss these matters, please contact NIRS on 1300 135 070. The form may be emailed to the Trade Classification Manager at international.trade@abs.gov.au.
The ABS Privacy Policy outlines how the ABS will handle any personal information that you provide to the ABS.

Request for data investigation form - page 1
Request for data investigation form - page 2
Request for data investigation form - page 3