5439.0 - International Merchandise Imports, Australia, Aug 2005  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/09/2005   
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Feature Article - ABS management of the impact of the implementation of the imports component of the new customs system


The Australian Customs Service (Customs) is in the process of implementing the imports component of its new Integrated Cargo System (ICS). The imports component became operative on 19 July 2005 and the full cutover from the current to the new system will occur on 12 October 2005. This article outlines the process for introducing the new system and summarises the expected implications for merchandise imports and balance of payments statistics, which are compiled by the ABS using Customs information.


Implementation of the ICS is one of the principal outcomes of the Customs Cargo Management Re-engineering project. The exports component of the system was successfully implemented in October 2004. The ABS has been actively involved in this project because of the potential impact on international merchandise trade and balance of payments statistics. The objectives of the ABS have been to ensure that key trade statistical requirements continue to be met from the new systems, and that, wherever possible, the quality of data is maintained or improved.

More information on the Cargo Management Re-engineering project is available from the Customs web site <www.customs.gov.au>.


The imports component of ICS was implemented on 19 July 2005, with the full cutover from the current to the new system occurring on 12 October 2005. During the transition period both systems are operational. All transactions with an expected date of arrival before 12 October 2005 must be reported in the current imports system. All transactions with an expected date of arrival on or after this cutover date must be reported in the ICS. From 12 October 2005 onwards, reporters are required to only use the ICS. However, external access to the legacy system will continue for 40 days after cutover, until 21 November 2005, to enable finalisation of entries reported in this system.

The diagram below describes the transition from the current to the new system.

Graphic: transition to the new system


Since importers can only use the new system for imports which are due to arrive on or after 12 October, the ABS does not expect the new system to impact on import statistics for July or August.

The ABS records a merchandise import in the calendar month in which the import entry is finalised by Customs and not the month in which the goods arrived in Australia. An analysis of historic data has shown that around 5% of imports by value are finalised in the month before they arrive in Australia. For this reason, it is likely that some of the imports lodged in the new system will appear in the September statistics. However, the most significant impact will occur from October onwards.

The ABS will closely monitor the impacts of the ICS transition and will advise users of any significant issues which may affect their interpretation or use of statistics compiled during this period. Implementation of the ICS and other Cargo Management Re-engineering changes represents the most significant set of changes to Customs systems and procedures in the last twenty years. They require a large and diverse stakeholder population to make significant changes to their own systems and procedures. As a result, some initial processing problems may occur. While the ABS will attempt to identify any problems that arise, attention will be focussed on ensuring that large value transactions are correct.

There may also be some changes in importer behaviour around the cutover date e.g. the import of goods are brought forward or delayed to avoid any difficulties that might arise with the new system and procedures. As this is a ‘real world’ change in recorded activity, it would be reflected in the published trade statistics on both merchandise trade and balance of payments bases.

The ABS does not expect to make any adjustments to its merchandise trade statistics to overcome any problems that may arise with the imports cutover. However, the ABS will make adjustments to imports data on a balance of payments basis, if there is evidence that the finalised records received from Customs do not match the actual import of goods. There may also be a larger than normal number of revisions to imports statistics for a few months after the cutover. Any short term deterioration in data quality for imports, during the cutover period, needs to be considered in the context of improvements in data quality expected by Customs in the longer term with the introduction of the new systems and procedures.


The data elements the ABS receives from the ICS will, in many cases, be structurally different to those received from the legacy imports systems. In addition, the way some data elements are captured will change. For example, some elements will change from text descriptions to codes, some from reported to derived items, and some may be reported by a different party.

The ABS will preserve the format of the data elements in the data disseminated to clients. Processing systems will concord the data elements to their original structure, and the ABS will continue to provide statistical outputs at the same level of detail, and in the same format, as before the introduction of the ICS.


The ABS is delaying the release of some publications presenting international merchandise trade import statistics to allow sufficient time to validate the data and processes following the cutover to the imports component of ICS. The changes to the release dates are shown below.

International Merchandise Imports, Australia (cat. no. 5439.0)
IssueOriginal Release DateNew Release Date
September19 October28 October
October16 November30 November
November16 December22 December
International Trade in Goods and Services, Australia (cat. no. 5368.0)
IssueOriginal Release DateNew Release Date
September3 Novemberno change
October30 November6 December
November10 Januaryno change


While there may be some statistical impacts from changed importer behaviour around the cutover date, and some data quality issues to be addressed, adequate preparation has been made for the cutover and the ABS's merchandise trade statistics should not be adversely affected. More information on ABS preparations for the cutover to ICS can be obtained from Mr Rhodri Jones on telephone (02) 6252 5411 or by email <rhodri.jones@abs.gov.au>.