The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) produces a broad range of statistics on Australia’s economic interactions with the rest of the world. ABS International Trade statistics measures the value of both goods and services imported and exported to and from Australia. These statistics provide insights into the effects of trade policy; the efficacy of business support programs and initiatives; are a critical input into the Balance of Payments¹ and Gross Domestic Product²; and are used to build a picture of the global trading environment and the global economy.
Australia has a long history of being predominantly a supplier of goods (international merchandise trade), however, in more recent decades international trade in services have grown in value to now play a substantial and important part of the Australian economy (see figure 1 & 2 below). This increase in services has been facilitated by the rise of globalisation, with increases in activities of multi-national enterprises and improving technologies that support work across traditional country borders and allow traders to connect virtually.
As the value of and emphasis on Australia’s trade in services has increased, so has the demand for more information. In April 2021 the Government launched Australia’s Service Export Action Plan (SEAP), which aims to capitalise on the potential for further growth in the services sector. The plan presents five macro-level outcomes that capture long-term goals identified by Australia’s services industries. The fifth of these outcomes: information-driven policies and business strategies recognises the need for robust international trade in services statistics to inform this objective.
International trade in services are however, complex to measure due to their intangible and heterogenous nature and the breadth of topics to be captured. Constructing Australia’s international services outputs requires many (more than 20) data sources and a series of statistical models (see Appendix A for more information on how international trade in services statistics are compiled).
Recently, large economic shocks (both domestically and globally) resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly changed the nature of international trade in services. They also resulted in the loss of key input data sources and the erosion of quality. This has made it difficult to maintain the existing quality for monthly ABS services statistics.
To meet the increasing demand for robust and representative services statistics the ABS will be undertaking a program of work to enhance services statistics. To do this, the ABS will suspend the release of monthly international trade in services statistics, to support a greater focus on quarterly services statistics (which are critical to the Balance of Payments and National Accounts), and will build on the range of services statistics available. The ABS will also take the opportunity to review the timeliness and content of the monthly merchandise trade statistics, to ensure these are continuing to meet contemporary needs.
The remainder of this paper outlines the changes in more detail and describes where and how you can have your say on how the ABS enhances international trade statistics.