By: David Johnson
Many of you know how important the big 2010 Decennial Census is, and how it’s just around the corner. The data collected will be used to make projections and aid budget decisions for the next ten years. Sometimes, it can be hard to understand how data collected in 2000 is still relevant in 2009 but the task of collecting information on every man woman and child and then processing it is so monumental it couldn’t be done more than once every ten years.
The situation is the same for collecting foreign trade data, though we in the Foreign Trade Division are fortunate enough to have many systems in place that allow easy submission of shipment data through the Automated Export System, Automated Broker Interface, and automated review programs that simplify the process. The question remains though, what is going on in those 40-45 days ( release schedule), from the end of a statistical month until the data is ready for the public?
So Much Data, So Little Time
Just to give you an idea on volume, the port of Los Angeles, the United States’ busiest container port, handled 7.85 million TEU‘s (twenty-foot equivalent units) in 2008 (a list of the world’s busiest ports on wikipedia). That’s over half a million units per day at one port! Now, if each of those containers had just one import or export document filed for it, we would still have a mountain of data, but often there are multiple commodities and parties involved for each container. Extrapolate this to all of the other ports in the U.S., and you start to get an idea of how much data we are talking about and that’s just for ocean shipments!
We Check then Double Check and Even Triple Check
The amount of the data that we receive at the Foreign Trade Division, and all of the Census Bureau for that matter, is mind boggling. Even if 99% of all the data came in completely correct, there would still be billions of dollars in shipments that are being filed with errors. These errors can range from incorrect commodity classifications to submitting the value of a shipment in foreign currency to any number of problems. One of the major reason’s why this month’s data won’t be available for another 40 some days is that we are busy using automated techniques as well as personally contacting filers to verify the accuracy of the data we receive.
It’s our Job to Produce the Best
Every day, analysts assigned to specific groups of commodities, import metals for instance, comb through datasets that are produced from the master set of all of the month’s trade data. These sets contain records that may or may not be correct, but have tripped up the electronic flag that says: “maybe we should take a closer look at this one”. In the end, what this means for the trade community is that even though the data isn’t coming hot off the press the first day of a new month, it has been thoroughly reviewed, approved, and contains some of the most accurate trade data in the world.