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TRADE DATA BASICS
This page contains general information on the collection and presentation of U.S. trade and foreign investment statistics. Use the links below to navigate directly to a particular topic.
Trade in Goods
The official U.S. import and export statistics reflect government and non-government shipments of merchandise between foreign countries and the U.S. Customs Territory (i.e. the 50 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico), U.S. Foreign Trade Zones, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, without regard to whether or not a commercial transaction is involved.
Exports measure the total physical movement of merchandise out of the United States to foreign countries whether such merchandise is exported from within the U.S. Customs Territory or from a U.S. Customs bonded warehouse or a U.S. Foreign Trade Zone. Information on exports of merchandise from the U.S. to all countries, except Canada, is compiled from the U.S. exporter’s Electronic Export Information (EEI) as submitted to the U.S. Automated Export System (AES). These submissions are made online via secure computer connections with both the U.S. Census and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Canadian import statistics are used to measure U.S. exports to Canada, while Canadian exports to the U.S. are based on U.S. imports from Canada.
Total Exports is the sum of two types of exports:
- Domestic Exports – Commodities grown, produced or manufactured in the U.S., including commodities imported from foreign countries that have been significantly changed or enhanced in value, in either the United States or a Foreign Trade Zone.
- Foreign Exports (Re-exports) – Commodities of foreign origin that have entered the U.S. but are "re-exported" in substantially the same condition as when imported.
Imports include commodities of foreign origin or domestically produced goods that are returned to the United States with no change in condition or after having been processed and/or assembled in other countries. There are two measurement styles for imports:
- General Imports - This number measures the total value of merchandise shipments that arrive in the U.S. from foreign countries, whether such merchandise enters consumption channels immediately or is entered into bonded warehouses or U.S. Foreign Trade Zones under Customs custody.
- Imports for Consumption - This number measures the total value of merchandise that physically clears Customs, or goods withdrawn from Customs bonded warehouses or U.S. Foreign Trade Zones, which immediately enter consumption channels. Merchandise being held in bonded warehouses or U.S. Foreign Trade Zones is not included until it is specifically withdrawn for consumption.
Bonded Warehouses are authorized by U.S. Customs for storage or manufacturing of goods on which payment of duties is deferred until the goods are removed into Customs Territory. These goods are not subject to duties if reshipped to foreign points.
Foreign Trade Zones are enclosed areas, operated as public utilities, under control of U.S. Customs with facilities for handling, storing, manipulating, manufacturing, and exhibiting goods. The merchandise may be exported, destroyed, or sent into Customs Territory from the zone, in the original package or otherwise. It is subject to Customs duties if sent into Customs Territory, but not if reshipped to foreign points.
Merchandise trade can be measured on a Census or Balance of Payments Basis:
Census Basis - Goods data compiled from the documents collected by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and reflect the movement of goods between foreign countries and the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and U.S. Foreign Trade Zones. They include government and non-government shipments of goods and exclude shipments between the United States and its territories and possessions, transactions with U.S. military, diplomatic and consular installations abroad, U.S. goods returned to the United States by its Armed Forces, personal and household effects of travelers, and in-transit shipments.
- Free Alongside Ship (FAS) Export Value - Transaction price of the merchandise including inland freight, insurance, and other charges incurred in placing the merchandise alongside the carrier at the U.S. port of exportation. The value excludes any loading, transportation, or insurance costs beyond the port of exportation.
- Customs Import Value - Price paid for merchandise when sold for exportation to the U.S. Additional costs for shipment, delivery and import duties, are not included.
Balance of Payments (BOP) Basis - The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) adjusts goods totals on a Census basis to bring the data in line with the concepts and definitions used to prepare the international and national accounts. These adjustments are necessary to supplement coverage of the Census basis data, to eliminate duplication of transactions recorded elsewhere in the international accounts, and to value transactions according to a standard definition. These adjustments also allow for the goods trade totals to be summed with services trade totals for a more accurate account of U.S. total trade.
There are three standard classification systems for merchandise trade: the Harmonized System (HS), North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), and Standard International Trade Classification (SITC).
Harmonized System (HS) - An international classification system standardized between countries at a basic 6-digit level. Commodity classifications in the U.S. are given in two publications, one for exports and one for imports:
- Schedule B - Export statistics are initially collected and compiled in terms of approximately 8,000 commodity classifications in Schedule B, Statistical Classification of Domestic and Foreign Commodities Exported from the United States, a publication of the U.S. Census Bureau and based on the Harmonized System.
- Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated for Statistical Reporting Purposes - Import statistics are initially collected and compiled in terms of about 14,000 commodity classifications in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated for Statistical Reporting Purposes (HTSUSA), a publication of the U.S. International Trade Commission and based on the Harmonized System.
North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) - A consistent system for economic analysis across the three North American Free Trade Agreement partners: Canada, Mexico and the United States. NAICS is built on a production-oriented or supply-based conceptual framework in that establishments are grouped into industries according to similarity in the processes used to produce goods or services. NAICS is a 6-digit hierarchical coding system. The first two digits of the code designate the sector that represent general categories of economic activities, the third designates the sub-sector, the fourth digit designates the industry group, the fifth digit designates the NAICS industry, and the sixth digit designates the national industry.
Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) - A statistical classification of the commodities entering external trade designed to provide the commodity aggregates needed for purposes of economic analysis and to facilitate the international comparison of trade-by-commodity data.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis collects and compiles U.S. services import and export statistics. These are released in a monthly press release entitled U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services report (FT900). The services statistics are estimates of services transactions between foreign countries and the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other U.S. territories and possessions. Unlike trade in goods, which is closely tracked through the submission of EEIs to the AES system, services trade calculations are based on quarterly, annual, and benchmark surveys and partial information generated from monthly reports. Services trade totals are then estimated from these survey results. Limited country or area detail is available due to the lack of adequate source data upon which to base estimates.
In June 2014, the BEA introduced a new presentation of the International Transactions Accounts and a new presentation of the International Investment Position. These new presentations reflect a comprehensive restructuring of the international accounts that enhances the quality and usefulness of the accounts for customers and bring the accounts into closer alignment with international guidelines. Additional information on the restructuring is available from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Services trade data are shown in nine broad categories:
- Maintenance and repair services n.i.e. (not included elsewhere) - Consists of maintenance and repair services performed by residents of one country on goods that are owned by residents of another country. Excludes such services in which the cost is included in the price of the goods and is not billed separately or is declared as a part of the price of the goods on the import or export declaration filed with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Maintenance and repair of ships, aircraft, and other transport equipment are included under transport services, and maintenance and repair of computers are included under computer services.
- Transport - Consists of transactions associated with moving people and freight from one location to another and includes related supporting and auxiliary services. Transport covers all modes of transportation, including air, sea, rail, road, space, and pipeline. Postal and courier services and port services, which cover cargo handling, storage and warehousing, and other related transport services, are also included.
- Travel (for all purposes including education) – Includes goods and services acquired by nonresidents while abroad. A traveler is defined as a person who stays, or intends to stay, for less than one year in a country of which he or she is not a resident or as a nonresident whose purpose is to obtain education or medical treatment, no matter how long the stay. Purchases can be either for own use or for gifts to others. Travel is a transactor-based component that covers a variety of goods and services, primarily lodging, meals, transportation in the country of travel, amusement, entertainment, and gifts. This category excludes air passenger services for travel between countries, which are included in transport, and goods for resale, which are included in goods. Travel includes business and personal travel. Business travel covers goods and services acquired for use by persons whose primary purpose for travel is for business (including goods and services for which business travelers are reimbursed by employers). Business travel also includes expenditures by border, seasonal, and other short-term workers in their economy of employment. Personal travel covers travel for all non-business purposes, including for medical or educational purposes.
- Insurance services - Includes the direct insurance services of providing life insurance and annuities, non-life (property and casualty) insurance, reinsurance, freight insurance, and auxiliary insurance services. Insurance is measured as gross premiums earned plus premium supplements less claims payable, with an adjustment for claims volatility. Premium supplements represent investment income from insurance reserves, which are attributed to policyholders who are treated as paying the income back to the insurer. Auxiliary insurance services include agents’ commissions, brokerage services, insurance consulting services, actuarial services, and other insurance services.
- Financial services - Includes financial intermediary and auxiliary services, except insurance services. These services include those normally provided by banks and other financial institutions. Services primarily include those for which an explicit commission or a fee is charged; implicit fees for bond transactions, measured as the difference between bid and ask prices, are also included. Services include securities brokerage and underwriting, financial management, financial advisory, and custody services; credit and other credit-related services; and securities lending, electronic funds transfer, and other services.
- Charges for the use of intellectual property – Includes charges for the use of proprietary rights, such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights, and charges for licenses to use, reproduce, distribute, and sell or purchase intellectual property.
- Telecommunications, computer, and information services - Telecommunications services include the broadcast or transmission of sound, images, data, or other information by electronic means. These services do not include the value of the information transmitted. Computer services consist of hardware- and software-related services and data processing services. Sales of customized software and related use licenses, as well as licenses to use noncustomized software with a periodic license fee, are also included, as is software downloaded or otherwise electronically delivered. Cross-border transactions in noncustomized packaged software with a license for perpetual use are included in goods. Information services include news agency services, database services, and web search portals.
- Other business services - Consists of research and development services, professional and management consulting services, and technical, trade-related, and other business services. Research and development services include services associated with basic and applied research and experimental development of new products and processes. Professional and management consulting services include legal services, accounting, management consulting, managerial services, public relations services, advertising, and market research. Amounts received by a parent company from its affiliates for general overhead expenses related to these services are included. Technical, trade-related, and other business services include architectural and engineering, construction, audio-visual, waste treatment, operational leasing, trade-related, and other business services.
- Government goods and services n.i.e. - Includes goods and services supplied by and to enclaves, such as embassies, military bases, and international organizations; goods and services acquired from the host economy by diplomats, consular staff, and military personnel located abroad and their dependents; and services supplied by and to governments that are not included in other services categories. Services supplied by and to governments are classified to specific services categories when source data permit.
Release & Revision Procedures
Economic data is regularly revised to apply corrections and adjustments to previously published statistics. Statistics are also revised to redistribute monthly data that was received too late for inclusion in the month of transaction. Statistics are reported monthly approximately 40 to 45 days after the end of the calendar month and on a year-to-date basis in a joint release by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis: “U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services (FT900)”.
Goods (Census Basis):
- Monthly Revisions – Each month, a preliminary estimate for the current data month and a revised estimate for the preceding data month are released.
- Annual Revisions – Each June, exports and imports of goods on a Census basis are revised for the prior three years.
Goods (BoP Basis) and Services:
- Monthly Revisions – Each month, a preliminary estimate for the current month and a revised estimate for the immediately preceding month are released. After the initial revision, no further revisions are made to a month until more complete source data become available in March, June, September, and December.
- Quarterly Revisions – The releases in March, June, September, and December contain revised estimates for the previous six months to incorporate more comprehensive and updated source data.
- Annual Revisions – Each June, historical data are revised to incorporate newly available and revised source data, changes in definitions and classifications, and changes in estimation methods. Seasonally adjusted data are also revised to reflect recalculated seasonal and trading-day adjustments.
- “Guide to Foreign Trade Statistics” (Census Bureau)
- “Information on Goods and Services” (Bureau of Economic Analysis)
- “A Guide to BEA’s Services Surveys” (Bureau of Economic Analysis)
- “U.S. International Economic Accounts: Concepts and Methods” (Bureau of Economic Analysis)
- “Modernizing BEA’s International Economic Accounts” (Bureau of Economic Analysis)
- U.S. Census Bureau’s Foreign Trade Division
- U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’ International Accounts
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection
- Virtual World Trade Reference Room