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Overview of U.S. International Trade and Transportation Data

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Is there one source that I can go to that will have all the information I need about U.S. international trade and transportation?
In the United States, multiple agencies and organizations (both public and private) are involved in the collection, processing and dissemination of international trade and transportation data. No one dataset provides all the information requirements needed by the transportation community. Data collection approaches may also vary. Some data are required by regulation and can be considered administrative data. Others are collected via surveys. Some data are reported by carriers while other data represent information from shippers. The integration of these different data sources helps to provide a more complete picture of U.S. international trade and transportation flows and trends. However, several challenges do arise when using multiple data sources, including variations in accuracy, reliability, time series, and data field definitions.

What types of international trade and transportation data are collected for the United States and what are their sources?
U.S. international trade and transportation data can be categorized into three primary categories. These are: administrative trade statistics, carrier-based data and shipper-based data. Data in these categories may be required by regulation, collected via a survey or compiled for a special study.

Administrative Trade Statistics
International merchandise trade statistics for the United States are processed and released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Division. Census-based merchandise trade data are captured from administrative documents required by the Departments of Commerce and now the Department of Homeland Security. Historically, these data have primarily reflected information filed by shippers (or their representatives) rather than carriers. The U.S. Customs Service is responsible for collecting this information, either in paper or electronic form at U.S. ports of entry, exit or clearance. Currently, electronic information is captured through the Automated Broker Interface (ABI) for imports and the Automated Export System (AES) for exports, together known as the Automated Commercial System (ACS). (Customs is developing a new system to replace the ACS, as part of its modernization efforts. This is known as the Automated Commercial Environment or ACE). Approximately 98 percent of import filings are captured electronically, and the remaining on paper. On the export side, approximately 80 percent is captured electronically, while the remaining is filed on paper.

Once the data are collected by U.S. Customs, the Census Bureau is responsible for quality assurance and verification of the official U.S. international trade statistics. Census also releases a number of products in a wide variety of formats. In addition, other federal agencies receive special tabulations from the Census Bureau, based on the official U.S. international trade statistics. These agencies then perform additional quality assurance reviews and analyses for their own purposes and to meet the needs of their customers. These include: data on North American land trade (released to BTS and disseminated as the Transborder Surface Freight Data); data on U.S. international maritime trade (released to the Maritime Administration (Marad) and the Army Corps of Engineers and disseminated in multiple formats); data on U.S. transportation related goods and overall trade data (released to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and disseminated in multiple formats, including balance of payments information).

A wide variety of transportation and transportation related data elements are collected as part of the filing requirements for import and export transactions. This includes, for example, data elements such as value, commodity, weight, country of origin and destination, U.S. port or gateway, freight charges, etc.

From a transportation perspective, several federal agencies are involved in data processing, analysis and dissemination of official international trade statistics, in addition to the Census Bureau. The primary agencies involved, from a transportation perspective, are listed below:

  • Overall levels of U.S. international trade with focus on country information and/or detailed commodity information: U.S. Census Bureau and other agencies that repackage Census-based trade statistics such as the International Trade Commission (http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/www/)
  • Maritime trade and transportation related data: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (DOD) and the Maritime Administration, U.S. Department of (http://www.marad.dot.gov/library_landing_page/data_and_statistics/Data_and_Statistics.htm)
  • Land trade and transportation related data: Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Department of Transportation (http://transborder.bts.gov/programs/international/transborder/)
  • Air trade: Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Division (Limited information is available from their existing products. Through special tabulation requests, users can obtain more detail.)
  • Multimodal trade and transportation data integration, analysis and dissemination: Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Department of Transportation

As noted above, customers can obtain access to data on overall levels of U.S. international trade directly from the U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Division or from other federal agencies that have developed user-friendly summaries and queries for these data. These include the International Trade Commission's Interactive Tariff and Trade DataWeb available at http://dataweb.usitc.gov/, which provides interactive access to monthly data on U.S. international trade with commodity, value and country detail through interactive queries. In addition, International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce offers a variety of summarized downloadable annual data tables on U.S. international trade available at http://www.ita.doc.gov/td/industry/otea/.

Carrier Based Sources
In addition to the administrative trade statistics, other types of data are also available to assess U.S. international trade and transportation. These include carrier and shipper based sources.

Some examples of carrier based sources include: international air freight data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistic's Office of Airline Information (OAI), maritime data from the Journal of Commerce's Port Import Export Reporting Service (PIERS), and special periodic surveys such as the Canadian Roadside Survey.

The international air freight data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistic's Office of Airline Information (OAI) includes data on the weight of air cargo carried between U.S. airports and foreign airports. The data represents non-stop bi-directional air trade by U.S. and foreign carriers between the United States and other countries and as such differs from U.S. Census Bureau's merchandise trade statistics. The airport data from the BTS OAI source also reflect actual U.S. airports, not U.S. Customs ports (Customs ports are the basis for air ports of entry for administrative trade statistics). For international air freight analysis, the OAI data provide more detailed geographic and route information, from a carrier perspective. This type of information is not included in the administrative trade statistics released by the Census Bureau. However, the OAI data do not have information on commodity nor value, and these two data elements are included in the administrative trade statistics.

The maritime data from the Journal of Commerce's Port Import Export Reporting Service (PIERS), a private source, includes data on detailed waterborne cargo, including weight and commodity detail. The PIERS data reports containerized cargo by twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) as well as by tonnage. The source of PIERS data is the vessel manifest for all vessels entering and exiting the United States. Because the data are based on the vessel manifest information, the level of precision for the commodity and value data will differ from that reported in administrative trade statistics. The coverage of the dataset also includes transshipment activity, or shipments passing through the United States, but not part of official U.S. international trade. Therefore, the PIERS data captures a wider range of activity than is represented in official U.S. international trade statistics (which do not include transshipments).

In addition to OAI and PIERS, periodic surveys are collected in specific regional areas and for specific time periods. Such surveys may have a very limited time series, but can be used in conjunction with more detailed data sources. An example of this is the National Roadside Study (NRS), which was a component of the National Roadside Survey of Canada. This national survey was a carrier based intercept survey for trucks that was conducted in 1991, 1995, and 1999. It was originally designed to capture information on commercial truck activity among Canadian provinces. The 1999 National Roadside Study was expanded to include coverage of bi-directional truck activity at the U.S.-Canadian border. The information on U.S.-Canada truck freight covers origin and destination, major Canada-U.S. truck freight routes, commodity classification, weight and value and truck volumes by state/province and major border crossing.

Shipper Based Sources
In addition to these carrier sources, there are shipper-based survey sources that provide some information on U.S. international trade and transportation. An example of this is the Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) conducted in 1993, 1997, and 2002. The CFS is conducted by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. Because it is a survey of U.S. domestic establishments, it captures information on export shipments from these establishments. For the 1997 survey, a special tabulation on exports was released. This covered information on the value and tonnage for exports by the export mode of transportation. It also included information on value, tonnage, and ton-miles for exports by the domestic mode of transportation. Due to changes in the sample size for the 2002 CFS, the special tabulations for exports may not have the same level of detail as reported for the 1997 CFS. The export data from the CFS is limited due to the exclusion of industries outside the scope of the CFS. Therefore the data released is not directly comparable to merchandise trade exports released by other sources, including the Census-based foreign trade statistics. The CFS export data is collected by asking respondents to report the foreign city, country of destination, and mode of transport by which the shipment left the country. Respondents are also asked to report the U.S. port, airport, or border crossing of exit and to report the "domestic mode" of transport used to reach the U.S. destination.)

Data Source Integration
To fully assess U.S. international trade and transportation issues, customers may need to rely upon multiple data sources, including some of the administrative, carrier and shipper based data discussed here. In doing so, customers will want to review the data definitions, time series, methodology, in order to determine how to adequately link multiple sources for analysis.

Specifically, where can I find U.S. international trade and transportation statistics?
From a transportation perspective, several federal agencies are involved in data processing, analysis and dissemination of official international trade statistics. The primary agencies involved, from a transportation perspective are listed below, as well as some of their key products and services.

Overall Merchandise Trade
The Foreign Trade Division at the Census Bureau offers a wide range of products and services, including very aggregated information online at their website http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/www/ , as well as detailed data released on CD-Rom and DVD. One of the most utilized products is their monthly data release on U.S. Imports of Merchandise and U.S. Exports of Merchandise. These are released on DVD-ROM and contain information on U.S. imports and exports with value, weight, commodity, mode, and country detail.

Maritime Trade and Transportation
The Waterborne Commerce Center of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of Statistical and Economic Analysis at the Maritime Administration offer a wide range of products and services specific to maritime trade and transportation. Specifically, the Waterborne Commerce Center releases the Waterborne Commerce of the United States, a series of publications that provides statistics on the foreign and domestic waterborne commerce moved on the United States waters. Also available is The Public Domain Database, which contains aggregated information of foreign and domestic waterborne cargo movements. Their website can be accessed here: http://www.ndc.iwr.usace.army.mil/wcsc/wcsc.htm.

The Maritime Administration releases a wide variety of data and statistical reports on U.S. foreign waterborne commerce, with geographic (port, state, country), vessel, and value/weight information. Marad also releases U.S. Exports and Imports Transshipped Via Canada and Mexico, which summarizes U.S. maritime transshipments through Canada and Mexico, including a series of tables that summarize this traffic by U.S. Customs District, foreign trade area, and commodity.

Marad's information can be accessed at: http://www.marad.dot.gov/library_landing_page/data_and_statistics/Data_and_Statistics.htm

In addition to these federal sources, the Journal of Commerce's Port Import Export Reporting Service (PIERS) provides data on U.S. international maritime activity, and has data on TEUs.

Land Trade and Transportation
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics at DOT offers a wide range of products and services specific to U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico by land modes of transportation (truck, rail, pipeline, mail and other). Data are released on a monthly and annual basis in a number of formats, including: monthly detailed data, monthly and annual summaries and searchable interfaces. (www.bts.gov/transborder)

Air Trade and Transportation
Air trade data from official U.S. international trade statistics can be obtained from the Foreign Trade Division at the Census Bureau. The monthly data releases of U.S. Imports of Merchandise and U.S. Exports of Merchandise on DVD-ROM contain information on the value and weight of U.S. imports and exports by air with commodity detail. Information on U.S ports of entry or exit for air trade must be requested as a special tabulation from the Census Bureau. In addition to administrative trade statistics, carrier-based data on international air freight activity is also available from the BTS Office of Airline Information (OAI) at the national aggregate level. BTS publishes aggregated air data in a number of reports, including the National Transportation Statistics, well as the U.S. International Trade and Freight Transportation Trends report. Additional information on OAI data is available at: www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/subject_areas/airline_information/index.html.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Aviation and International Affairs at DOT also releases a summary report, based on OAI data, that provides information on U.S. international passenger and freight statistics. This is released quarterly, and can be found at http://www.dot.gov/policy/assistant-secretary-aviation-international-affairs.

Multimodal Trade and Transportation:
Multimodal trade and transportation data and analysis are available from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. BTS collects and integrates a wide range of international trade and transportation data from a variety of sources, and then provides summarized data tables. Data tables and analyses are included in many agencies products, such as the Pocketguide to Transportation, the National Transportation Statistics (NTS) and the Transportation Statistics Annual Report (TSAR). In addition, BTS conducts analysis and release interpretive reports on a wide variety of issues pertaining specifically to international trade and transportation. These include: U.S. International Trade and Freight Transportation Trends (March 2003), North American Trade and Travel Trends (November 2001) along with shorter analyses and press releases. These are available in hardcopy form from the BTS InfoServices at 800-853-1351 or email. They are also available online at the BTS website: www.rita.dot.gov/bts

Are manifest data currently collected and released by the U.S. government for all modes of transportation and all international trade transactions?
No. Currently, the Customs Service only collects and releases manifest data for U.S. international maritime trade. Similar data for other modes is not available. Because both shipper based administrative trade data and manifest data are collected for the maritime mode, there are fewer transportation related data gaps for the marine mode than for other modes of transportation. In addition, the linkage of both the manifest and shipper based data sources facilitates additional data verification and quality improvements to maritime trade and transportation data. These are performed by the Waterborne Commerce Center of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maritime Administration. New Customs and federal government initiatives will require the reporting of both shipper and manifest (from carriers) information for all modes of transportation as part of the efforts to modernize Customs' systems and develop a one-stop federal data collection effort, known as International Trade Data System or ITDS.

Is there an overall guide to U.S. administrative trade statistics? Where can I find it?
Yes. The Census Bureau's Foreign Trade Division website contains such a document. It is called the Guide to Foreign Trade Statistics and is available at: http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/guide/index.html. The guide provides information on the various sources of foreign trade statistics, provides definitions and details coverage information for the data elements that are collected as part of an international trade transaction. Please note that this guide is not a guide to all other data sources that can be used in analyzing U.S. international trade and transportation. It is a guide to explain in greater detail U.S. international trade statistics that are collected by the U.S. Customs service and released by the Census Bureau. It does not provide an overview of non-administrative trade data sources.

Why does U.S. international trade data differ from the data of other countries, such as Canada and Mexico, and what types of trade data reconciliation occurs?
Official U.S. international trade statistics may differ from similar data reported by other countries. For example, the U.S. government may report U.S. exports to Mexico for a specific amount. The Mexican government may report a different number for Mexican imports from the United States. In theory, these figures should be quite comparable. Depending on the trade partner they may be. However, differences do occur at both the aggregate and detailed levels of trade (for example, at the commodity or modal level). These differences occur due to the different types of processing, quality assurance, editing and validation that each country may perform on its data once it is reported to the government. An example of one specific difference is with shipments of a "low-value". The United States does not require that information be filed on imports or exports below a defined level (for example, less than $2,500 for exports). In contrast, some countries record all transactions regardless of value. Another difference may be how each government determines country of origin for commodities. For example, prior to May 2001, Mexican import documents, used by Mexican Customs, only allowed the reporting of one country of origin. If there was more than one country of origin the total value was attributed to the country with the largest value.

The United States and Canada have less trade reconciliation problems than other countries. This is because the United States and Canada initiated a trade data exchange in 1987. Under this agreement, each country only collects import data, and then exchanges with the other country on a monthly basis to create each country's export figures. Thus, at the national level, official international trade statistics reported by the Canadian and U.S. governments will generally agree. However, there are still reconciliation levels at the detailed level (for example, port, state or mode) because of reporting differences or differing verification procedures. For more information on the trade data reconciliation issues for North America, please visit the Census Bureau's Foreign Trade Division's website for the full report on "Merchandise Trade Reconciliation U.S.-Canada-Mexico" here: http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/www/index.html.

Which Canadian and Mexican government agencies are responsible for trade statistics?
For Canada, the International Trade Division of Statistics Canada is the main source of Customs-based trade data. More information on Statistics Canada is available at http://www.statcan.ca/start.html Transport Canada, in particular the Economic Analysis Directorate, also conducts a variety of trade and transportation analyses based on administrative (Customs) statistics from Statistics Canada as well as a number of carrier-based sources. More information on Transport Canada is available at http://www.tc.gc.ca/.

For Mexico, there are a number of sources for international trade and transportation data. The two main sources of Customs-based trade data are the Bank of Mexico and Mexico's national statistical agency, INEGI - Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, Geografia e Infomatica: http://www.inegi.gob.mx/. In addition, the transportation agencies in the Mexican government obtain carrier-based information and conduct a wide variety of trade and transportation analyses. This includes the Mexican Department of Transportation, or Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (http://www.sct.gob.mx/) as well as the Instituto Mexicano del Transporte (http://www.imt.mx/)

Where can I get data for other countries, such as European Union trade?
The International Trade Administration (ITA) maintains a list of international trade data sources as well as sources for other macroeconomic data on their website. From the ITC main page (http://www.trade.gov/) select the link for Trade Statistics, which will take you to the web page for the Office of Trade and Economic Analysis. On this page you should find a link for Global Data Links. This is a list of websites for agencies in many countries that provide trade or economic data for their respective country.