5422.0 - International Merchandise Trade, Australia, Mar 1999  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/05/1999   
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Feature Article - Measuring exports by region of origin

(This article is taken from International Merchandise Trade Australia March Quarter 1999 ABS Cat. Number 5422.0)


The ABS has received a number of requests for information on exports originating in particular Australian regions. This article assesses the extent to which existing data sources can be used to provide an indication of the region of origin of Australia's exports.


Merchandise export statistics are compiled from information reported by exporters or their agents to the Australian Customs Service (Customs). The information reported on export entries is provided to ABS and includes the name and phone number of the owner of the goods, the State of origin of the goods, the Australian port where the goods are loaded onto the ship or aircraft for export, and the commodity code and description of the goods. In addition, Customs maintain a reference file containing the addresses and phone numbers of all organisations registered to lodge export entries.


There are some general problems in using data from the export entries to provide an indication of region of origin:

  • Determining a single region of origin is difficult when there may be several stages in the manufacturing process, each of which may take place in a different region or even in a different State. For example, fruit may be grown in one region, canned in another, and exported from another.
  • Some commodities are stockpiled prior to export, and when these goods are finally exported identification of the region where a particular shipment originated is likely to be virtually impossible.
  • Many exports of ‘mixed goods’ include goods from a variety of origins.
  • For some States, a significant amount of export data is not available at the commodity level because of confidentiality restrictions. These data would also need to be suppressed for the regions within that State. In addition, the extra disaggregation which would be created if regional data were made available would be likely to result in further requests to confidentialise output.


While recognising that problems exist in using export information collected by Customs to determine region of origin, the data items collected by Customs were examined to determine whether any would provide useful indicators in determining the region of origin of exported goods.

State of Origin

The State of origin reported on export entries refers to the State of production, or the State in which the final stage of production or manufacture occurred. Any expansion of this item to identify region as well as State is likely to be met with resistance, since there is increasing pressure to reduce reporting load.

Australian Port of Loading

The Australian port of loading (the port where the goods are loaded onto the ship or aircraft which will transport the goods from Australia) provides some information which could help in regionalising data for certain areas. However, most ports handle export goods produced in a variety of regions, and this is especially the case for ports which specialise in handling specific commodities.

Owner Address and Telephone Number

If the location of the owner could be accurately determined from the information on the export entry or the reference file, this may provide some indication of the region of origin of the goods. However, determining the location of the owner is not a straightforward process.

For exporters who lodge their own export entries the postcode or phone number on the reference file could potentially be used to determine the location of the owner. However, the majority of export entries are lodged by agents. The only owner information available for these exports is the owner name and phone number which is reported on each export entry lodged by an agent. These fields are not always completed accurately or consistently. For example, phone number is sometimes reported without the area code, sometimes mobile phone numbers are entered, and sometimes the agent's phone number is entered.

Even if the location of the owner of the goods could be accurately determined, it does not necessarily accurately reflect the region of origin of the goods. For example, the owner address and phone number provided often relate to offices which may not be in the same region (or even State) as the area the goods originate from.

In order to gauge the accuracy of using information on the owner's telephone number as an indicator of region of origin, a sample of 170 export entries lodged by a mixture of owners and agents was examined. All exporters were contacted to determine the correct region of origin of their goods, and the main findings are summarised below.
  • In only 51% of cases could the exporter's location be determined using the available telephone number information. In the other 49% of entries, the telephone number information was either not reported (field was blank), not complete (did not include the area code), or not correct.
  • In only 54% of cases did the exporter's location reflect the region of origin of the goods.

It is clear from this that even if the phone number was reported in a format that would enable identification of the exporter's location in all instances, this would not be sufficient to determine the region of origin.


Based on the small sample of export entries examined in detail, Customs data cannot be used to provide an accurate dissection of exports by region of origin. A possible success rate of 54% does not justify the cost of making the necessary systems changes, particularly considering that for some regions, much of the data would need to be suppressed due to confidentiality concerns.


Further work on estimating regional exports has been carried out in the Queensland and South Australian offices of the ABS using data from sources other than Customs. The Queensland exercise involved obtaining information from exporters, marketing bodies, industry associations, regional development bodies, Government departments and agencies and has provided useful results for the three regions examined in detail (Mackay, Bundaberg, and Central Highlands). Clients who are interested in more information about this work should contact Brian Holliday on (07) 3222 6132.