Exporter Database Methodology

Exporter Database Methodology


Exporter Database Methodology

The Commerce Department’s Exporter Database (EDB) and “Profile of U.S. Importing and Exporting Companies” (“Profile”) provide an annual statistical profile of U.S. exporting and importing companies including their number, size, industry composition, and geographic distribution. The EDB and the “Profile” are joint projects of the Census Bureau and the International Trade Administration. This page provides an overview of the EDB’s methodology and technical information specific to the EDB. The methodologies for the EDB and the “Profile” are consistent. Additional information for both can be found in the “Explanatory Notes” of the Census Bureau’s latest “Profile.”

Usage Note

Exporter counts in the EDB cannot be summed across geographies such as state, ZIP code, or export market to arrive at national or regional totals. Attempting to do so will result in double counting, because some exporting companies, especially large multi-establishment firms, frequently export from multiple locations. Similarly, a single firm may export to more than one market. Several trading regions have been pre-aggregated in the database to address this.

Exporter counts also cannot be summed across product categories to arrive at aggregate totals. 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.

General Notes

All statistics on exporters in the EDB 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. The EDB includes both U.S.-domiciled companies and U.S. affiliates of foreign firms that export goods from the United States.

The EDB lists all enterprises that could be identified from the electronic export information (EEI) 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 uses Employer Identification Numbers and other information supplied through AES to link these documents to the Bureau’s Business Register.

The EDB only captures companies that have at least one export shipment during the year valued at $2,501 or more. This method only tracks exporters of merchandise (goods). Firms that export services only are excluded. However, service companies (wholesalers, retailers, engineering and architectural firms, etc.) that export goods are included.

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 “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.

Any statistics in the EDB that profile exporters at the state, metropolitan, or ZIP code level are compiled on an Origin of Movement - ZIP Code (OM-ZIP) basis where the geographic origin of the export is determined by the ZIP code of the U.S. Principal Party of Interest (USPPI). In contrast, geographic origin data in the “Profile” use the Origin of Movement - Based on Origin State Series (OM-State) methodology which reflects the state from which the merchandise starts its journey to the port of export. Therefore, exporter counts by state will differ between the EDB and the “Profile.” In addition, EDB data should not be compared to OM-State based export data, like that in TradeStats Express

Definitions & Terminology

Companies in the EDB 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 data, small firms are defined as those with fewer than 100 employees and 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. Some of the datasets aggregate these levels to create a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) category, which is defined as employing fewer than 500 employees.

All statistics in this database regarding the number of employees in exporting companies refer to the total number of full- and part-time workers, not just workers whose jobs are supported by exports.

All export value data in the EDB are on an FAS (Free Alongside Ship) basis and include both domestic exports and re-exports of foreign merchandise.

The trading partners identified in this dataset are the countries and territories of Schedule C, Classification of Country and Territory Designations for U.S. Foreign Trade Statistics. The dataset additionally includes several regional groupings: 

  1. NAFTA: North American Free Trade Agreement (Mexico and Canada). Since changed to United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). 
  2. CAFTA: Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic) 
  3. European Union (– 28): Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, 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 (included through 2019, denoted by “– 28”) 
  4. ASEAN: Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) 
  5. APEC: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam) 
  6. OPEC: Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Membership in 2017 and 2018: Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela) 
  7. TPP: Trans-Pacific Partnership (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam). Since changed to The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). 
  8. FTA: All U.S. FTA partners (Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Oman, Panama, Peru, Singapore, and South Korea) 


Because not all export transactions can be definitively linked to the firms that filed them due to a variety of factors (including misreporting by firms, errors in collection and processing, and coverage problems), the EDB may slightly understate the total number of exporters and importers. Nevertheless, the EDB likely captures almost all significant exporters. This is because only one valid export declaration is needed to link an exporter to Census databases. If a company submits 1,000 export declarations and all but one are invalid, the company is still captured by the EDB. 

When analyzing these data, users should consider the possible impact of unmatched transactions and unidentified companies on their results. Unidentified importers or exporters may not reflect the same distribution of company types and sizes as identified companies. Year-over-year changes in the number of exporters and the value of their transactions may also be caused by differences in match rates between the years, rather than companies entering/dropping out of the export market. More details on the exporter matching process and its limitations can be found in the Census Bureau’s latest “Profile.”

EDB 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 the EDB and related statistical tables available from Census are in anonymous form and have been aggregated to a level where individual firms cannot be identified.

Because of U.S. laws that preclude disclosure of confidential business data provided to the federal government, some data may be suppressed (i.e., not available). In these cases, the relevant data is replaced by a “-1”. Median values are also rounded to their first two significant digits in accordance with disclosure suppression procedures.