This is the "International Trade" page of the "Trade Statistics" guide.
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Trade Statistics  

A guide to U.S. and international trade statistics. Go to Business Research Page
Last Updated: Aug 6, 2012 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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International Trade Statistics

Use the above tabs to locate trade statistics for U.S. and other countries. However, before getting started, consider the following points:

Commodity Code: Most countries collect data on their imports and exports. This data is also compiled at national levels by international organizations such as the United Nations, and the OECD. To help researchers identify all available data for a commodity and to facilitate international comparisons, trade sources use classification codes to group commodities.

Classification Codes: Most countries now use the following classification codes to group similar commodities and products:

  • The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS): Commonly referred to as "Harmonized System" (HS), it is a newer classification code that was developed by the World Custom Organization to incorporate new product types. The HS number refers to a six digit product-specific code. All countries that follow the HS coding system use the same six digit code for each product. Each country, however, can assign on its own four additional numbers, making the entire number 10 digits. The United States does this with its Schedule B system, which is used to describe exports from the U.S. Many countries, though, do not use 10 digits; some use only six or eight. The U.S. Census Bureau offers a searchable version of Schedule B, which covers exports from the U.S. Use it to find six digit codes for imports or ten digit codes for exports. HS Codes can also be accessed at the ITC Website and here.

  • The Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) has been in use since 1950. It has been revised several times; SITC, Rev. 4 (2006) is the most recent revision. While not as detailed as HS, many countries and national and international organizations continue to use SITC for various purposes, such as for the study of long-term trends in international merchandise trade and aggregation of traded commodities into classes more suitable for economic analysis. You can learn more about SITC here . SITC, Rev. 4 and previous revisions are available on the UN Statistics Division website.

How the Codes Work: SITC and HS coding systems use a numerical hierarchy to group products under various categories. In either code, the level of product detail is indicated by digit level within the classification hierarchy. So while one or two digit numbers represent greatly aggregated data for broad categories of commodities, five to ten digit numbers represent fairly specific commodities. Below is a sample of classification numbers from HS :

89 Ships, Boats, & Floating Structures
8901 vessels for the transport of persons or good
890110 Cruise ships, excursion boats and similar vessels principally designed for the transport of persons; ferry boats of all kinds
890120 Tankers
890130 Refrigerated vessels, other than those of subheading 890120
890190 Other vessels for the transport of goods and other vessels for the transport of both persons and goods


Time Series: It takes some time before a new product gets assigned its own numerical code and shows up in trade data, and so for a while it will be lumped in with similar products. This is especially true for modern electronic products especially if the product is built of subcomponents, each of which may be coded separately.


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