Rapidly increasing globalization makes the well-being of countries more and more dependent on their position in a network of international trade. To move towards a better place, national policy makers need to have a good "road map", whereby countries can have access to timely and accurate international trade statistics. These statistics are indispensable for Governments in developing effective trade policy, conducting trade negotiations, monitoring trade agreements and planning infrastructure, e.g., assessing the needs for new port facilities and roads. The business community also requires these statistics to conduct market research and forecasting, while the general public needs them to judge the effectiveness of governmental policies and formulate opinion on future course of actions.
The availability of trade statistics is not only important for all countries, but has special significance for developing countries and those in transition since they have to develop their export industries, find markets for their products and obtain information on where to get goods for consumption or as input in the production processes.
The compilation of trade statistics is the responsibility of national statistical authorities. However, the international community, and the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) in particular, play an important role. UNSD activities in this area focus on developing methodological guidelines, reformatting national trade data into international trade statistics databases and disseminating them, and providing training for country statisticians.
Developing methodological guidelines in recent years included revision of some basic concepts and definitions relevant to trade statistics. The updated International Merchandise Trade Statistics: Concepts and Definitions was adopted by the UN Statistical Commission and published in 1998. UNSD prepared and published a series of technical documents to assist countries in the implementation of these revisions. Its most recent methodological publication is the International Merchandise Trade Statistics: Compilers' Manual, to be published later in 2003, containing practical advice on how to compile data consistent with Concepts and Definitions. It will be most useful to developing countries and countries in transition, which are modernizing their statistical systems in accordance with internationally adopted standards.
In addition, UNSD provided free-of-charge Internet access to information on the national pratices of some 150 countries to be used in compiling their external trade statistics. With that facility, statisticians can compare what they do with the practices of their trading partners, as well as with UN recommendations. …