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Exploring the accuracy of international trade statistics


  • Basim Makhoul
  • Samuel Otterstrom


This study provides a comprehensive investigation of statistical discrepancies in generally accepted international trade figures published by the IMF between 1948 and 1994. We calculated export over- and underestimation for each country and all of their bilateral trading partners. By keeping totals for over- and underestimation in separate categories we avoided the cancellation effect of aggregating positive and negative discrepancies among partner countries. In general, the results show a significant improvement in the quality of trade data over time. However for many countries, relatively large discrepancies still exist that defy technical explanations, such as the CIF-FOB margins. Also, because export over- and underestimation coexist for most of the countries at varying degrees, use of the aggregate sum of the discrepancy might disguise the actual magnitude of the problem. A significant difference exists in the relative magnitude and dispersion of trade discrepancies between OECD countries and non-OECD countries. Trend analysis suggests that the accuracy of trade data is improving at a faster rate in the non-OECD than in the OECD countries.

Suggested Citation

  • Basim Makhoul & Samuel Otterstrom, 1998. "Exploring the accuracy of international trade statistics," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 30(12), pages 1603-1616.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:applec:v:30:y:1998:i:12:p:1603-1616
    DOI: 10.1080/000368498324689

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    Cited by:

    1. Charles D. Brummitt & Andres Gomez-Lievano & Ricardo Hausmann & Matthew H. Bonds, 2018. "Machine-learned patterns suggest that diversification drives economic development," Papers 1812.03534,
    2. Hamanaka, Shintaro, 2011. "Utilizing the Multiple Mirror Technique to Assess the Quality of Cambodian Trade Statistics," Working Papers on Regional Economic Integration 88, Asian Development Bank.
    3. Shintaro Hamanaka, 2012. "Whose trade statistics are correct? Multiple mirror comparison techniques: a test case of Cambodia," Journal of Economic Policy Reform, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 15(1), pages 33-56, March.
    4. Mar Rubio & Mauricio Folchi, 2005. "The apparent consumption of fossil energy as an indicator of modernisation in Latin America by 1925: a proposal using foreign trade statistics," Working Papers 5056, Economic History Society.
    5. Shaar, Karam, 2017. "Reconciling International Trade Data," MPRA Paper 81572, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Andreas Buehn & Mohammad Reza Farzanegan, 2012. "Smuggling around the world: evidence from a structural equation model," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 44(23), pages 3047-3064, August.
    7. Schmitz, P.M., 2000. "Integration der europäischen Land- und Ernährungswirtschaft in die Weltagrarwirtschaft: Chancen und Probleme," Proceedings “Schriften der Gesellschaft für Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften des Landbaues e.V.”, German Association of Agricultural Economists (GEWISOLA), vol. 36.
    8. M. d. MAR RUBIO & CÉSAR YÁÑEZ & MAURICIO FOLCHI & ALBERT CARRERAS, 2010. "Energy as an indicator of modernization in Latin America, 1890–1925," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 63(3), pages 769-804, August.
    9. Zelal Aktas & Altan Aldan & M. Utku Özmen, 2014. "Import surveillance and over-invoicing imports: the case of Turkey," Journal of Economic Policy Reform, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 17(4), pages 360-373, December.
    10. M. del Mar Rubio Varas & Mauricio Folchi, 2005. "On the accuracy of Latin American trade statistics: A nonparametric test for 1925," Economics Working Papers 879, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    11. Shaar, Karam, 2019. "Essays on modern economic issues in international trade, exchange rates and housing," Working Paper Series 8039, Victoria University of Wellington, School of Economics and Finance.

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