Successfully Sharing Foreign Trade Data

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By: Kristen Nespoli

History in the Making
In July 1987, the United States and Canada decided to try something unique and exchange data. Canada would use U.S. imports from Canada as their export data, and the U.S. would use Canadian imports from the U.S. as their export data.

While the statistical agencies were the agents behind the exchange, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Canadian Border Services Agency also had to be on board since they were the administrators of the trade data. Because of the complexity and magnitude behind the Data Exchange, it wasn’t implemented until the January 1990 statistics – yes, three years later.Effects of Sharing Data

Increased Reliability of Export Data
The Data Exchange significantly reduced the amount of non-reported exports on each side of the border. Before the Data Exchange, export statistics were derived mostly from paper documents. This, inevitably generated ongoing reporting and collection problems. Occasionally we relied on the good aim of truckers who would toss the documents into a box at the border. It was estimated the understatement of U.S. exports to Canada had reached over 20 percent. These errors affected the published trade balances and consequently the data users who relied on accurate statistics.

Reduced Burden of Exporters of Both Countries
For 2012, U.S. exports to Canada totaled $291.8 billion and Canadian exports to the United States totaled $329.9 billion – that is a lot of information to file! It is estimated that in 2012, U.S. exporters saved 574,644 hours of work worth $10.3 million by not having to fill out export documentation that did not require licenses(Department of Labor’s Occupational Employment Statistics ).

Changes to Operations in Statistical and Customs’ Agencies
Statistical agencies had to establish new procedures to use import data to serve as export data, including converting values using exchange rates.

Another change involved managing information for enforcement and administrative purposes. In order to satisfy confidentiality requirements of both countries, both countries agreed that the exchanged data could only be used for statistical purposes.

Challenges…what challenges?
As with all relationships, there can be some rough patches. When the U.S. Government shut down for an extended period in the mid 1990’s, both the United States and Canada had to delay their monthly releases. Statistics Canada could not receive our data, and their exports to the United States represented well over half of their total export trade.

Challenges also may arise when verifying data. Because each agency must verify each others’ data, if analysts on either side respond late, there can be an impact on data quality and publishing deadlines.

When the U.S. moved daylight savings time a month earlier in 2007, it caused a problem. Both countries had to agree to release their statistics on the same day at the same time to protect the security of the economic indicators. After many negotiations, the Canadian government made a similar change to the daylight savings time period, and the problem was resolved.

The Census Bureau and Statistics Canada have paved the way to maximize the use of trade data through an enduring partnership for over 20 years –one that serves as a model to the rest world!

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