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Office of Trade and Industry Information

Trade Data Basics

The official U.S. import and export statistics reflect government and non-government shipments of merchandise between foreign countries and the U.S. Customs Territory (i.e. the 50 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico), U.S. Foreign Trade Zones, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, without regard to whether or not a commercial transaction is involved.

Table of Contents

        Exports > Domestic Exports > Foreign Exports
        Imports > General Imports > Imports for Consumption
        Bonded Warehouse
        Foreign Trade Zone
        Census Basis > Free Alongside Ship (FAS) Export Value > Customs Import Value
        Balance of Payments (BOP) Basis
        Harmonized System (HS) > Schedule B > Harmonized Tariff Schedule
        Standard Industrial Trade Classification (SITC)
        North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)
        Trade in Services
        Types of Services
        Additional Links


    Exports measure the total physical movement of merchandise out of the United States to foreign countries whether such merchandise is exported from within the U.S. Customs Territory or from a U.S. Customs bonded warehouse or a U.S. Foreign Trade Zone. Information on exports of merchandise from the U.S. to all countries, except Canada, is compiled from copies of Shipper's Export Declarations (SEDs). Copies of SEDs are required to be filed with Customs officials at the port of export. Canadian import statistics are used to measure U.S. exports to Canada. Total Exports is the sum of two types of exports:

    • Domestic Exports- Commodities grown, produced or manufactured in the U.S., including commodities imported from foreign countries that have been significantly changed or enhanced in value, in either the United States or a Foreign Trade Zone.
    • Foreign Exports (Re-exports) - Commodities of foreign origin that have entered the U.S. but are "re-exported" in substantially the same condition as when imported.

    Imports include commodities of foreign origin or domestically produced goods that are returned to the United States with no change in condition or after having been processed and/or assembled in other countries. There are two measurement styles for imports:

    • General Imports - This number measures the total value of merchandise shipments that arrive in the U.S. from foreign countries, whether such merchandise enters consumption channels immediately or is entered into bonded warehouses or Foreign Trade Zones under Customs custody.
    • Imports for Consumption - This number measures the total value of merchandise that physically clears Customs, or goods withdrawn from Customs bonded warehouses or U.S. Foreign Trade Zones, which immediately enter consumption channels. Merchandise being held in bonded warehouses or U.S. Foreign Trade Zones is not included until it is specifically withdrawn for consumption.

    Bonded Warehouses are authorized by U.S. Customs for storage or manufacturing of goods on which payment of duties is deferred until the goods are removed into Customs Territory. These goods are not subject to duties if reshipped to foreign points.

    Foreign Trade Zones are enclosed areas, operated as public utilities, under control of U.S. Customs with facilities for handling, storing, manipulating, manufacturing, and exhibiting goods. The merchandise may be exported, destroyed, or sent into Customs Territory from the zone, in the original package or otherwise. It is subject to Customs duties if sent into Customs Territory, but not if reshipped to foreign points.

        Merchandise trade can be measured on a Census or Balance of Payments Basis:

    Census Basis - Represents the difference between U.S. total exports based on F.A.S. values and U.S. General Imports based on Customs import values. This balance corresponds to a measurement of the international payments or credit flows resulting from the physical movement of goods between the U.S. and foreign countries.

    • Free Alongside Ship (FAS) Export Value - Transaction price of the merchandise including inland freight, insurance, and other charges incurred in placing the merchandise alongside the carrier at the U.S. port of exportation. The value excludes any loading, transportation, or insurance costs beyond the port of exportation.
    • Customs Import Value - Price paid for merchandise when sold for exportation to the U.S. Additional costs for shipment, delivery and import duties, are not included.

    Balance of Payments (BOP) Basis - The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) adjusts goods totals on a Census basis to bring the data in line with the concepts and definitions used to prepare the international and national accounts. These adjustments are necessary to supplement coverage of the Census basis data, to eliminate duplication of transactions recorded elsewhere in the international accounts, and to value transactions according to a standard definition. These adjustments also allow for the goods trade totals to be summed with services trade totals for a more accurate account of U.S. total trade.

        There are three standard classification systems for merchandise trade:

    Harmonized System (HS) - An international classification system standardized between countries at a basic 6-digit level. Commodity classifications in the U.S. are given in two publications, one for exports and one for imports:

    Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) - A statistical classification of the commodities entering external trade designed to provide the commodity aggregates needed for purposes of economic analysis and to facilitate the international comparison of trade-by-commodity data.

    North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) - A consistent system for economic analysis across the three North American Free Trade Agreement partners: Canada, Mexico and the United States. NAICS is built on a production-oriented or supply-based conceptual framework in that establishments are grouped into industries according to similarity in the processes used to produce goods or services. NAICS is a 6-digit hierarchical coding system. The first two digits of the code designate the sector that represent general categories of economic activities, the third designates the sub-sector, the fourth digit designates the industry group, the fifth digit designates the NAICS industry, and the sixth digit designates the national industry.

        Trade in Services

    The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis collects and compiles U.S. services import and export statistics. These are released in a monthly press release, titled U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services report (FT900). The services statistics are estimates of services transactions between foreign countries and the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other U.S. territories and possessions. Unlike trade in goods, which is closely tracked through the submission of Shipper's Export Declarations, services trade calculations are based on quarterly, annual, and benchmark surveys and partial information generated from monthly reports. Services trade totals are then estimated from these survey results. Limited country or area detail is available due to the lack of adequate source data upon which to base estimates.

        Types of Services

    • Travel - Purchases of services and goods by U.S. travelers abroad and by foreign visitors to the United States.
    • Passenger Fares - Receipts consist of fares received by U.S. carriers from foreign residents for travel between the United States and foreign countries and between two foreign points. Payments consist of fares paid by U.S. residents to foreign carriers for travel between the United States and foreign countries.
    • Other Transportation - Charges for the transportation of goods by ocean, air, waterway, pipeline, and rail carriers to and from the United States.
    • Royalties and License Fees - Transactions with foreign residents involving intangible assets and proprietary rights, such as the use of patents, techniques, processes, formulas, designs, know-how, trademarks, copyrights, franchises, and manufacturing rights.
    • Other Private Services - Transactions with affiliated foreigners, for which no identification by type is available, and of transactions with unaffiliated foreigners.
    • Transfers Under U.S. Military Sales Contracts (exports only) - Exports of goods and services in which U.S. military agencies participate. Includes both goods (such as equipment) and services (such as repair services and training) that cannot be separately identified.
    • Direct Defense Expenditures (imports only) - Expenditures incurred by U.S. military agencies abroad, including expenditures by U.S. personnel, payments of wages to foreign residents, construction expenditures, payments for foreign contractual services, and procurement of foreign goods. Includes both goods and services that cannot be separately identified.
    • U.S. Government Miscellaneous Services - Transactions of U.S. government nonmilitary agencies with foreign residents. Most of these transactions involve the provision of services to, or purchases of services from, foreigners; transfers of some goods are also included.

        Additional Links


Links to Web sites outside the U.S. federal government or the use of trade, firm, or corporation names within the International Trade Administration Web sites are for the convenience of the user. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by the U.S. Commerce Department of any private sector Web site, product, or service.

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