The term export means shipping in the goods and services out of the jurisdiction of a country. The seller of such goods and services is referred to as an “exporter” and is based in the country of export whereas the overseas based buyer is referred to as an “importer”. In international trade, “exports” refers to selling goods and services produced in the home country to other markets.
Export of commercial quantities of goods normally requires involvement of the customs authorities in both the country of export and the country of import. The advent of small trades over the internet such as through Amazon and eBay have largely bypassed the involvement of Customs in many countries because of the low individual values of these trades. Nonetheless, these small exports are still subject to legal restrictions applied by the country of export. An export’s counterpart is an import.
“Imports” consist of transactions in goods and services to a resident of a jurisdiction (such as a nation) from non-residents. The exact definition of imports in national accounts includes and excludes specific “borderline” cases. A general delimitation of imports in national accounts is given below:
An import of a good occurs when there is a change of ownership from a non-resident to a resident; this does not necessarily imply that the good in question physically crosses the frontier. However, in specific cases national accounts impute changes of ownership even though in legal terms no change of ownership takes place (e.g. cross border financial leasing, cross border deliveries between affiliates of the same enterprise, goods crossing the border for significant processing to order or repair). Also smuggled goods must be included in the import measurement.
Imports of services consist of all services rendered by non-residents to residents. In national accounts any direct purchases by residents outside the economic territory of a country are recorded as imports of services; therefore all expenditure by tourists in the economic territory of another country are considered part of the imports of services. Also international flows of illegal services must be included.
Basic trade statistics often differ in terms of definition and coverage from the requirements in the national accounts:
Data on international trade in goods are mostly obtained through declarations to custom services. If a country applies the general trade system, all goods entering the country are recorded as imports. If the special trade system (e.g. extra-EU trade statistics) is applied goods which are received into customs warehouses are not recorded in external trade statistics unless they subsequently go into free circulation of the importing country.
A special case is the intra-EU trade statistics. Since goods move freely between the member states of the EU without customs controls, statistics on trade in goods between the member states must be obtained through surveys. To reduce the statistical burden on the respondents small scale traders are excluded from the reporting obligation.
Statistical recording of trade in services is based on declarations by banks to their central banks or by surveys of the main operators. In a globalized economy where services can be rendered via electronic means (e.g. internet) the related international flows of services are difficult to identify.
Basic statistics on international trade normally do not record smuggled goods or international flows of illegal services. A small fraction of the smuggled goods and illegal services may nevertheless be included in official trade statistics through dummy shipments or dummy declarations that serve to conceal the illegal nature of the activities.