BEA Works with Partners to Understand Differences in Bilateral Trade Statistics

Trade statistics produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis provide policymakers and other stakeholders with critical information for understanding the role of the United States in the global economy. As the size and complexity of international transactions have increased, BEA is working on a number of fronts to make its trade statistics even better.

An article in the February issue of the Survey of Current Business describes recent BEA efforts to understand bilateral asymmetries, or differences, in statistics that measure the value of trade in services produced by the United States and another trading partner country.  The article describes why such differences exist and how they are measured. It also highlights BEA’s work with statistical agencies in other countries to analyze the source of those differences.

The largest asymmetries between BEA’s trade in services statistics and those of another country are with the United Kingdom, the United States’ top trading partner for services. The Survey of Current Business article details the results of a recent analysis by the BEA and the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics. The analysis showed that each country consistently reported higher exports than the partner country’s reported imports. As a result, both countries are reporting a services trade surplus with each other.

This initial analysis focused on the asymmetries caused by definitional and methodological differences in the U.S. and U.K. statistics. BEA and the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics were able to quantify some of these differences. The article breaks down the aggregate asymmetries by type of service.

BEA will continue to study bilateral trade asymmetries with the United Kingdom and other trading partners and will provide periodic updates on the findings. These efforts will, in turn, help data users to better understand how to interpret differences in the bilateral trade statistics reported by BEA and its partner countries.

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