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Subjects > International Trade

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Subject: Foreign Trade

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Direct source
Generally, national statistical institutes are the source for data. It should be noted that for EMU countries the source is Eurostat. More information is available at: MEI International Trade Article

Source Periodicity
Annual and quarterly data are monthly averages.

Contact person
OECD statistics contact: stat.contact@oecd.org

Key statistical concept
The published international trade data show seasonally adjusted imports and exports data in billions of US dollars. Imports consist of: (i) imports for direct domestic consumption; (ii) withdrawals from bonded warehouses and free zones for domestic consumption (special trade only); and (iii) imports into bonded warehouses and free zones (general trade only).

Exports consist of: (i) exports of national products; (ii) exports without transformation of goods which had already been counted as special imports; and (iii) exports from bonded warehouses or free zones of goods which have not been transformed since import (general trade only).


Glossary Terms: International trade


Recommended uses and limitations
Data presented in the International Trade tables may differ from those shown in the OECD's Monthly Statistics of International Trade. Generally, national statistics institutes are the source for data in the International Trade tables while customs offices provide data for certain countries published in the Monthly Statistics of International Trade release. The conversion to US dollars and the timing of the introduction of revisions may also account for differences with the data. As the statistics shown in the International Trade tables only refer to total trade, they may be available more quickly than the detailed data published in the Monthly Statistics of International Trade release.

In all OECD countries statistics on imports and exports of goods (merchandise trade) are regarded as among the most important economic statistics. The primary uses of short-term merchandise trade statistics as published in the Main Economic Indicators are:
• as a short-term economic indicator;
• as an input to the compilation of import or export components of various price indices; and
• as an input to the compilation of balance of payments statistics and national accounts. In addition to the above, merchandise trade statistics are an important input to the development of trade policy, including fiscal, monetary, structural and sectoral issues.

For instance,
• Customs duties collected on imports are a major source of government revenue.
• Foreign trade statistics provide important market information for the business sector. At the detailed level, they can be used to identify the types of products that are presently being imported but which could be produced domestically; to help importers identify sources of supply; and to help exporters find new foreign markets.
• Foreign demand for a country's exports may have a significant impact on domestic incomes. Levels and changes in exports are thus an important indicator of earnings, tax revenues and living standards.
• To operate their exchange rate policies, governments need to know the levels and trends of imports and exports because exchange rates are determined by the demand for different currencies, a large part of which comes from the demand for exports and imports.

OECD Member countries in the main follow the United Nations guidelines quite closely. As their economies are closely linked through trade flows, it is in their interests to use the same definitions and standards for trade statistics. However, there may be practical difficulties relating to the recording of trade in military goods and the valuation of trade between related enterprises.