International trade in goods statistics are an important data source for many public and private sector decision-makers. Data record the monthly trade in terms of arrivals and dispatches of goods as well as the monthly trade in terms of imports and exports. The statistical information is mainly provided by the traders on the basis of Customs (extra-EU) and Intrastat (intra-EU) declarations. Extra-EU trade statistics cover the trading of goods between member states and non-member countries. Intra-EU trade statistics cover the trading of goods between member states. “Goods” means all movable property including electricity. Imports/Arrivals are valued on cost, insurance and freight (c.i.f.) basis. Total exports/Dispatches are valued on a free on board (f.o.b.) basis. Imported and exported goods are classified according to the Combined Nomenclature (CN) used for the purposes of external trade statistics, and based on the Harmonised System.
Statistics relating to the trading of goods between member states and non-member countries (extra-EU) are based on Regulation (EC) No. 471/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council, Commission Regulation (EC) No. 92/2010 and Commission Regulation (EC) No. 113/2010. Statistics relating to the trading of goods between member states (intra-EU) are based on Regulation (EC) No. 638/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1982/2004.
The source of international trade data covering non-EU countries is the Customs Administration, which provides an electronic extract of customs declarations data to the NSO. The current system is the Customs Electronic System (CES) covering both Imports and Exports, and has been in use since May 2004. Both importers and exporters are obliged by Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2913/92 to report all their transactions with non-EU countries. This is done by an electronic data transmission system.
The Supplementary Declaration System (Intrastat) is used to collect trade data covering transactions between EU member states. Arrivals cover goods that are produced in the EU, or which are in free circulation with respect to EU Customs Law, that are received in Malta. Dispatches record the same designated community goods that are sent to other member states.
Traders who annually exceed the exemption threshold of €700 are to submit their monthly declarations within 10 working days after the end of the reference month. Data providers can submit their information electronically through a web-based form, or in hard copy format to the relative Supplementary Information Collection Offices.
Accuracy and reliability of data
Validations at data source are carried out by the Customs Electronic System (CES) and Intrastat System on the most important data elements that are required. These include the verification and validation of the Combined Nomenclature (CN) for Intra-EU trade data and the Taric code for Extra-EU data, the country information, and the value. Taric codes include the goods nomenclature and additional codes.
Additionally to this, NSO staff review and analyze the plausibility of the data by checking the statistical value and weight of each commodity. All records are checked for correctness with various IT tools and statistical concepts. Other validations at entry point include checks on statistical and invoice value, period covered, nature of transaction, mode of transport, terms of delivery, and additional requirements of the CN code in terms of net mass and supplementary quantity.
Timeliness and punctuality of data
The ‘International Trade’ news release is published on a monthly basis, within two months following the reference month. These are published on the NSO’s website on the pre-established date, as scheduled in the Advance Release Calendar.
Extra and intra-EU aggregated statistics are provided to Eurostat within 40 days after the reference month. For extra-EU detailed statistics the transmission deadlines are 40 days after the reference month and for intra-EU detailed statistics 70 calendar days after the reference month.
Accessibility and clarity of data
An annual quality report is also transmitted to Eurostat within a fixed deadline after the reference year. A metadata report is also produced at a national level and disseminated on NSO’s metadata website.
Coherence and comparability / consistency of data
Trade statistics are not compiled on the balance sheet principle. Consequently, when exports from country A to country B are compared with imports to country B from country A, these figures may not match due to the adoption of different trade systems in use, and methodological aspects. Joint analysis on asymmetry between the involved member states is necessary for reaching an agreement on asymmetry causes and the corrections/adjustments to be carried out. This exercise is referred to as a ‘reconciliation exercise’.
Changes due to definitions, coverage or methods and other changes have an impact on the continuity of international trade series. In particular the accession of new member states to the EU may cause problems to the comparability over time since it implies for the acceding country a change from an administrative data source (Extrastat) to a purely statistical data collection system (Intrastat). This may have an impact on the accuracy of statistics at a detailed level. Time series of trade data on a consistent basis for most aggregates are available electronically as from 1995. Data for earlier periods are available on paper publications.
Apart from the international trade statistics, information on trade flows can be found in National Accounts, Business Statistics and Balance of Payments. The latter are compiled according to respective recommendations, through the use of different concepts and definitions, statistical units, and classifications.