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Technical Notes on the Exporter and Importer Databases

Updated April 2013

All statistics in this report are from the Commerce Department's Exporter Database (EDB) and Importer Database, which provide an annual statistical profile of U.S. exporting and importing companies, including their number, size, industry composition, and geographic distribution. U.S. importer information was made available beginning with the 2009 release (contains 2008 data as well). The EDB and IDB are joint projects of the Census Bureau and the International Trade Administration.

Latest available data from the EDB and IDB are currently for 2011.

The EDB lists all enterprises that could be identified from the electronic export information entered into the Automated Export System (AES) that was filed, per U.S. regulations, for merchandise exiting the country. To identify exporters, the Census Bureau used Employer Identification Numbers and other information supplied through AES to link these documents to the Bureau's Business Register (which contains information on company characteristics and locations). With regards to importers, numbers are supplied through various sources such as the Automated Broker Interface (ABI) and the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE).

All EDB/IDB statistics on exporters and importers refer to companies, not establishments.

Companies are legal entities that consist of one or more commercial establishments. Establishments are individual business units, or locations, where economic activity takes place. Establishments include factories, warehouses, and retailing facilities. The terms "company," "enterprise," and "firm" are used interchangeably in this report. The EDB includes both U.S.-domiciled companies and U.S. affiliates of foreign firms that export goods from the United States.

The linkage process outlined above yielded a 2011 Exporter Database consisting of 302,260 exporting firms, accounting for 89 percent of measurable merchandise export value. The Importer Database identified 183,960 companies, accounting for 88 percent of measurable merchandise import value. Documents accounting for 11 percent of export value and 12 percent of import value could not be linked to the companies that filed the forms due to a variety of factors—e.g., misreporting by firms, errors in collection and processing, and coverage problems.

Because not all SEDs can be definitively linked to the firms that filed them, the EDB and IDB may slightly understate the total number of exporters and importers. Nevertheless, the EDB and IDB likely capture almost all significant exporters and importers. This is because only one valid export declaration is needed to link an exporter to Census data bases. If a company submits 1,000 export declarations and all but one are invalid, the company is still captured by the EDB.

Due to improvements in methodology and data collection, the 2011 match rate for exporters of 89 percent (by value) was 11 percentage points higher than the 1992 match rate of 78 percent. As a result, changes in the number of exporters over the 1992–2010 period, along with the number of importers as more data years become available, should be interpreted with some caution. Some portion of the increase in the exporter population was undoubtedly the by-product of measurement enhancements; however, the extent of the effect is unknown. Whatever the impact, overall trends documented by the EDB and IDB are fully corroborated by a large body of anecdotal evidence reported in the media and by an upsurge in U.S. companies seeking assistance from government export promotion agencies.

EDB and IDB data on individual firms (including company names and addresses) are not available to the public; federal regulations prohibit public release of confidential business information provided to the U.S. government. All data in this report, as well as in EDB and IDB statistical tables available from Census, are in anonymous form. All numbers have been aggregated to a level where individual firms cannot be identified. For data users who desire exporter names and addresses, a number of commercial data base alternatives are available.

The EDB only captures companies that have at least one export shipment during the year valued at $2,501 or more. Also, the EDB tracks only exporters of merchandise—i.e., goods. Firms that export services only are excluded. However, service companies (wholesalers, retailers, engineering and architectural firms, etc.) that also export goods are included. The IDB only captures companies that have at least one import shipment during the year valued at over $2,001 or more for most items and $251 for certain quota items. Like the EDB, the IDB also only tracks importers of merchandise, so firms that import services only are excluded.

All businesses included in the EDB are direct exporters, i.e., entities that ship merchandise from their factories (or other facilities they own) to a foreign destination. Excluded from the EDB are so-called "indirect" exporters whose export role is limited to (1) providing components or other inputs to businesses engaged in export production and marketing, or (2) supplying goods to independent intermediaries which, in turn, market the products internationally.

Companies in this report are classified according to employment size ranges. There are no universally accepted guidelines for classifying companies by size. Classification criteria tend to vary with analytical purpose and organizational mission. For the purposes of this report, small firms are defined as those with fewer than 100 employees (very small firms are those with fewer than 20 employees). Medium-sized firms employ from 100 to 499 workers. Large firms are those with 500 or more employees. These definitions differ from those used by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which defines small firms as those with fewer than 500 employees.

Companies in this report are divided into three categories: manufacturers, wholesalers, and "other companies." Company type for single-location companies is based on the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Manufacturers are firms that fall into NAICS classifications 31 to 33. Wholesalers fall into classification 42, as do brokers, agents, and similar entities primarily engaged in the distribution of goods to businesses. The term "other companies" embraces all remaining NAICS categories. Included here are resource extraction companies, retailers, freight forwarders, engineering firms, and miscellaneous service companies that often market goods abroad and act as exporters of record. Firms for which a valid NAICS was not available are labeled "unclassified companies."

Export product categories referenced in this report are on a NAICS basis. For information on the types of products contained in individual NAICS categories, consult the Census Bureau's Internet site at

Many companies export products that fall into more than one NAICS category. It follows that such companies can be represented multiple times in tables and graphs that profile exporters by type of product exported. This means that one cannot simply sum up exporters in various product categories to arrive at totals.

Any EDB statistics in this report that profile exporters at the state level were compiled on an Origin of Movement (OM) basis. Tabulations on an OM basis assign exporters to states based on the transportation origin of the goods as specified on export declarations. Transportation origin is defined as the state from which the merchandise began its journey to the port (or other point) of exit from the United States. In years prior to 2005, the state of export origin was determined by 'state of origin' field on the SED. Beginning with the 2005 series of the EDB, the state of origin is determined by the zip code of the U.S. Principal Party of Interest (USPPI) listed on the export declaration. The USPPI is the person in the United States that receives the primary benefit, monetary or otherwise, of the export transaction. Generally that person is the U.S. seller, manufacturer, order party, or a foreign entity. New regulations issued by the Census Bureau in 2004 mandated that the USPPI report the address location from which the merchandise actually starts its journey to the port of export. If the USPPI does not have a facility at the origin of export, or the origin of export is unknown, the export declaration lists the USPPI address from which the export was directed. For shipments of multiple origins reported on a single SED, the location is indicated as the point of origin of the merchandise of greatest value. Due to this change in methodology, state exporter totals from 2005 and beyond should not be compared to state exporter totals from earlier years.

While the new series still has many of the limitations inherent to measuring exports on an OM-basis based on the reported state, compiling export statistics based on the zip code of the USPPI will now allow for analysis of exports on a sub-state basis. Statistics for U.S. exporters by metropolitan area are available on ITA’s EDB website.

The Origin of Movement—i.e., the state where the export journey begins—is not necessarily the location of export production or sale. While the locations of the export sale, production, and shipment often coincide, they do not always coincide. This is especially true for non-manufacturing companies, which were responsible for 40 percent of U.S. goods exports in 2011. Small wholesalers, for example, frequently sell products from one site but obtain the merchandise from unaffiliated out-of-state manufacturers. Many large multi-unit companies (manufacturers and non-manufacturers alike) often disperse essential business functions (production, sales, shipment processing) among several states. This is significant because multi-unit firms, while in the minority among exporters, nevertheless generate 74.4 percent of total U.S. merchandise export value.

Any IDB statistics in this report that profile importers at the state level were compiled using the U.S. State of Destination. The State of Destination data series provides import statistics based on the U.S. state, U.S. territory, or U.S. possession where the merchandise is destined, as known at the time of entry summary filing. This information is reported by the importer. For shipments into Foreign Trade Zones, the import state represents the location of the zone.

This new series is based upon the U.S. State of Destination Code. This is defined as the U.S. state, U.S. territory or U.S. possession where the merchandise is destined, as known at the time of entry summary filing. If the contents of the shipment are destined to more than one state, territory, or possession, or if the entry summary represents a consolidated shipment, report the state of destination with the greatest aggregate value. If in either case, this information is unknown, the state of the ultimate consignee, or the state where the entry is filed, in that order, should be reported. However, before either of these alternatives is used, a good faith effort should be made by the entry filer to ascertain the state where the imported merchandise will be delivered. In all cases, the state code reported should be derived from the standard postal two-letter state or territory abbreviation. For shipments into FTZ’s, the import state represents the location of the zone.

The State of Destination – i.e. the state where the import is initially destined – is not necessarily the final location for the imported goods. In some cases, the state of destination, as known at the time the entry documentation is filed, may reflect an intermediary, storage, or distribution point.

Because of the preceding factors, OM-based and State of Destination-based state trade data should be interpreted cautiously. This is especially true with respect to reported trade of states bordering Canada and Mexico, two of our largest trade partners. Because of the growing integration of North American industrial production, a significant but unquantifiable portion of border-state trade to and from Mexico and Canada represents warehouse and cargo processing activity, not export-oriented manufacturing activity indigenous to the states concerned.

While the limitations of the OM and State of Destination data introduce some uncertainty into interpretation, these statistics can nevertheless yield useful insights into export production and import patterns if used judiciously and if corroborated by other, independent information sources on state exports and imports. The vast majority of exporters typically conduct all corporate functions—production, marketing, shipping—at the same site. Ninety-one percent (91.3) of all 2011 exporters, and 93.1 percent of small and medium-sized exporters, were single-establishment companies.

The concept of calculating trade balances at the state level using destination and origin state data is problematic and may produce unintended results. As noted above, the export origin of movement may not always imply production origin and import destination may not always reflect where the goods are consumed or used. In addition the trade data do not provide information to track or monitor interstate flows. Census will not be producing data on state trade balances.

Exporter counts shown for states cannot be summed to arrive at national or regional totals. Attempting to do so will often result in double-counting, because some exporting companies, especially large multi-establishment firms, frequently export from multiple locations.

All statistics in this report regarding the number of employees in exporting and importing companies refer to the total number of workers, not just workers whose jobs are supported by exports. "Employment" also refers to part-time as well as full-time workers on a firm's payroll during Census Bureau reporting periods.

All export value data in this report are on an FAS (Free Alongside Ship) basis and include both domestic exports and re-exports of foreign merchandise. The import values in this report are customs import value and include general imports. Statistics in graphs and text have been rounded to enhance readability. For this reason, details may sometimes not add exactly to totals. Some individual countries have been grouped together in this report in order to analyze U.S. exports to world regions:

North America consists of Canada and Mexico.

Europe consists of Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Svalbard/Jan Mayen Island, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Vatican City.

Africa consists of Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, British Indian Ocean Territories, Burkina, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, French Southern and Antarctic Lands, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mayotte, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Reunion, Rwanda, St. Helena, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Western Sahara, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Pacific Rim includes Australia, Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea (South), Macao, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan.

Near East (Asia) consists of Bahrain, Gaza Strip Administered by Israel, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Republic of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, West Bank, West Bank Administered by Israel

South Asia includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka.

South/Central America consists of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Falkland Islands, French Guiana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Netherland Antilles, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, Uruguay, Venezuela.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) consists of Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

CAFTA-DR is the Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement: Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. (The U.S. is also a member.)

The European Union consists of Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) consists of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. (The U.S. is also a member.)

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) consists of Canada and Mexico. (The U.S. is also a member.)

OPEC is the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and consists of Angola, Algeria, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

Some nations are members of more than one country grouping. As a result, figures cited for the individual categories cannot be summed to arrive at meaningful totals.

For additional technical information regarding EDB/IDB data, see the technical notes provided with the Census press release.


Last Updated: 7/29/13 8:31 PM