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Feature Article - Tracking Australia's International Trade
24. On average, 6 per cent of exports records and 0.5 per cent of imports records generate error messages that require examination by editors. Other records are automatically adjusted by the system to correct obvious errors. Editors identify and resolve the problem signalled by the error message. This may involve contacting the exporter, importer or agent for clarification. Each editor concentrates on a series of chapters of the relevant commodity classification, and so builds up knowledge regarding the characteristics of the commodities they edit. Although the editing process is time consuming and clerically intensive, it is necessary in order to ensure that the statistics are as accurate as possible.
25. Some of the ABS edits duplicate similar checks that have already been performed on the records by the ACS system. However, the ACS checks are not as rigorous and involve sending system generated messages to the data supplier rather than personal contact. For example, although ACS apply unit value edits to both exports and imports, they are only warnings of possible errors and data suppliers can confirm their reported unit value by resubmitting the entry unchanged. If the record when it reaches the ABS fails the ABS unit value edits, the data supplier will be contacted to confirm their data. In many instances, although the records have been confirmed correct by resubmitting them unchanged to ACS, errors exist in either the quantity, the value or the commodity classification code. Approximately 4 per cent of export records and 0.3 per cent of import records are amended as a result of editing by ABS.
26. Further contact with exporters is necessary on a monthly basis. As outlined above, for exports ABS receives both ECN and manifest information and matches the two to form export records. Despite ongoing follow up of 'idle' ECNs by ACS, a significant number of these remain at the end of each month. Prior to producing preliminary results, ABS analyses all ECNs that may have departed Australia in the previous month but that have not yet been quoted on a manifest. At this stage, all exporters with 'idle' ECNs totalling over $500,000 are followed up by either ABS or ACS to determine whether the goods actually departed in that month. If departure is confirmed, ABS includes the ECN in the month's exports. The follow up of idle ECNs is a clerically intensive process which also places extra burden on those exporters and agents who are approached for confirmation of the export. However, if these large value 'idle' ECNs were not followed up, preliminary estimates of exports would be subject to significant revision as these shipments were eventually manifested and processed.
Aggregation and confidentiality
27. At the end of the month, when all entries have been processed, data are aggregated for release. During this process, concordances to other classifications are accessed, allowing international trade statistics to be produced not just according to the Harmonized System classifications, but also according to classifications such as the UN's Standard International Trade Classification Revision 3 (SITC R3), the UN's Classification by Broad Economic Categories (BEC), and the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), which may be more appropriate than the HS classifications for some users.
28. Aggregate international trade statistics are available in great detail, although not all statistics are available for release. Where an exporter or importer considers that release of certain statistics would be likely to enable the identification of their organisation, the ABS investigates these cases and may place a restriction on the release of those statistics. Where there are no requests for restrictions, all data are available. These confidentiality restrictions are required to be applied in accordance with the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and the Statistics Determination in force under section 13 of that Act.
29. Where it is necessary to restrict the release of some international merchandise trade statistics, the ABS, in consultation with the person or organisation who may be identified, chooses a form of restriction which protects the interests of that person or organisation and still allows useful statistical information to be released. For example, for a particular commodity the exports from one State may be restricted, but total Australian exports of that commodity may still be able to be released.
30. Confidentiality restrictions do not affect total export and import data. If the severest form of restriction ('no commodity details') is applied, no data are shown for that particular commodity. However, data for all commodities covered by 'no commodity details' restrictions are aggregated into a 'dump' commodity code, so are still included in total exports and imports.
31. To assist users in the interpretation of trade statistics, a list of commodities which are subject to restrictions is available, together with an Information Paper - International Merchandise Trade and Shipping Statistics, Australia: Data Confidentiality (5487.0) - which contains further information on restrictions and how they may affect the data received. Both of these documents are free of charge and may be obtained by contacting Robynne Knowler, the Confidentiality Manager, on (02) 6252 5409.
Feedback from clients
32. Because of the sheer volume of export and import transactions, the limited resources available for quality control and the requirement to produce timely monthly statistics, it is inevitable that there will be some errors and misclassifications remaining in the statistics when they are first released. The ABS relies on feedback from users who are often able to use their knowledge and understanding of the market for products within their industry to identify inconsistencies in preliminary output. Client queries are investigated, and where errors are identified, the data are amended and the revisions incorporated in the next release of output. On average, 10 queries on exports data and 55 queries on imports data are received each month.
33. Most queries relate to unit value data and the most common field amended is quantity. Errors frequently occur when the goods exported or imported are recorded in a different unit of quantity from that specified in the classification. Common quantity errors are the recording of kilograms instead of tonnes and square feet instead of square metres.
34. Another common source of error is recording incorrect commodity classification codes. It would seem that exporters, importers or their brokers sometimes default to the easiest statistical code when there is doubt as to the correct classification. In many cases, data are misclassified to the 'other' category of a classification group. Generally the 'other' classification code should have relatively small amounts of trade reported against it, as goods in which there are significant trade would have their own specific classification.
35. While the ABS appreciates that determining the correct classification for a commodity can be difficult (due to the complexity of the classification, the inadequacy of the goods description in the supporting documentation or a lack of detailed knowledge about the commodity), misclassification errors are of very real concern to ABS clients. Misclassifications can also lead to incorrect unit values. When clients query the classification of statistics, it can be difficult for ABS staff to resolve the problem, as they do not have detailed product knowledge or access to supporting documentation such as invoices. The ABS, therefore, normally checks with brokers or the exporting/importing company for resolution.
36. Another area where errors are frequently detected is in the reported country of origin and/or destination. For imports, such errors are often found by the ACS if the duty rate is wrong, but for exports or for imports which incur no duty, the problem is not often identified until the ABS' clients query the statistics.
37. Information received when investigating client queries has been used to set up a system which enables the items queried to be monitored and allows persistent instances of misreporting to be identified and corrected prior to data release. This has resulted in reduced provider load and improved data quality as well as freeing up resources to concentrate on other areas of concern. The ACS are advised if persistent quality problems are detected in particular areas of the classification.
38. Any queries that clients may have in relation to the statistics received should be forwarded to the ABS as soon as possible after receipt of the data and include as much detail as possible. All queries should be directed to Denise Burton, the Exports Manager, on (02) 6252 5401, or Carol Ward, the Imports Manager, on (02) 6252 6142, or fax (02) 6252 7438.
39. Revisions to published data can arise because an amending entry has been supplied to ACS (and passed to ABS) or because errors have been identified by the ABS in following up a client query or through other investigations.
40. Exports data for the most recent 18 months and imports data for the most recent 6 months are retained on the unit record database and revisions are made as errors are identified. Revisions beyond these periods are made only in exceptional circumstances. Because most revisions to export and import statistics are made within the first two or three months after the release of the initial estimate, this revisions policy is likely to have minimal effect on the quality of the statistics. Revisions to broad aggregates are not normally significant, but individual commodity statistics may register significant changes.
41. Other investigations are undertaken by ABS staff to assist in assessing and improving the quality of international trade statistics. These include:
Frequency and timeliness
42. The ABS releases monthly, quarterly and annual international merchandise trade statistics. ABS policy is to release initial monthly estimates as soon as possible after the reference month. Export statistics are released 21 working days after the end of the reference month while import statistics are released 12 working days after the end of the reference month. More time is required to process exports data as it is necessary to follow up and match manifest information with the ECNs.
43. ABS international merchandise trade statistics are compiled in accordance with several different classifications. The classification used for the collection of international trade data is the World Customs Organisation's Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS). Australia collects more detail by extending the 6-digit HS to 8-digit level for exports (AHECC) and to 10-digit level for imports (HTISC).
44. Australia disseminates international trade data according to the extended HS and according to a number of other classifications: the Standard International Trade Classification, Revision 3; the UN Classification by Broad Economic Categories; and by industry of origin according to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification.
Data items available
45. Statistics for reference periods commencing from July 1981 are retained in electronic form for retrieval. These data are available on an HS basis back to 1988 and earlier statistics may be supplied from publications or microfiche.
46. Statistics are available for exports, imports and import clearances.
47. The information available for both exports and imports includes:
48. Two international trade publications are produced by the ABS:
International Merchandise Imports, Australia (Cat. No. 5439.0). This monthly publication is available within 12 working days of the end of the month to which it refers and costs $13.50 per issue. It presents total imports (international trade basis) for the reference month only, together with commodity aggregates at the one digit level of the Standard International Trade Classification (Revision 3). No analysis is provided.
International Merchandise Trade, Australia (Cat. No. 5422.0). This quarterly publication is available within 35 working days of the end of the quarter to which it refers and costs $30.00 per issue. It provides commentary on the results and main findings arising from the current quarter's data, and includes tables presenting information on the value of merchandise exports and imports classified by country, commodity, country by commodity, State, broad economic category and industry of origin. It also includes articles analysing various aspects of Australia's trade (e.g. Australia's trade with particular countries or country groups; results of bilateral reconciliation studies with our major trading partners); or discussing statistical quality issues.
49. In addition, monthly data on merchandise exports and imports on a balance of payments basis are included in the monthly publication International Trade in Goods and Services, Australia (Cat. No. 5368.0). These data are adjusted for coverage, timing and (imports only) valuation to put them on a balance of payments basis.
50. Time series data in publication format are available from 1974/75 onwards. Publications covering earlier periods are available for consultation in ABS libraries.
51. There is also an international trade Information Kit available, free of charge, which outlines concepts and definitions, classifications, confidentiality, data availability, and products and services.
52. International merchandise trade statistical and related information is available through consultancy services operating in each ABS State or Territory office, and through Central Office in Canberra. Consultants develop tailored information solutions in response to individual client needs.
53. These solutions may take the form of ad hoc statistical reports accompanied by supporting information to assist in interpreting the data, or regularly delivered reports provided on a subscription basis and similarly accompanied by explanatory notes and annotations.
54. Consultancy prices are dependant upon the nature of the interrogation and the quantity of information retrieved. Quantities are determined by the number of commodities, countries, states and ports against which trade data sets are interrogated, and the number of time periods and data items (quantity, value, etc.) included. ABS client service staff will provide quotes for international trade consultancies upon request.
55. Clients wanting information more detailed than that published in standard products are required to pay for all costs incurred beyond the costs of collection and production of clean unit record files from which the information is produced. That is to say, they are required to cover dissemination rather than data costs.
56. Clients who have general enquiries about data formats and the availability of international merchandise trade data should contact Client Services in your local ABS Office.
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