The Overseas Trade Statistics (OTS) are a detailed dataset covering the UK's trade in goods at a disaggregated country and product level. They are published monthly, quarterly and annually from trade declarations made using commodity codes from the UN Tariff (HS Nomenclature) and its EU derivative the Intrastat Classification Nomenclature (ICN). The OTS are published separately for Non-EU and EU trade and provide access to both aggregated and detailed data for over 9,000 commodities and 250 partner countries. Although approximate, the detailed data are suitable for trend analysis and for comparing the relative magnitude of components.
Users interested in UK trade in goods from a macro-economic perspective should be aware that the OTS are also component elements of both the UK Balance of Payments data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and the European Statistical Office (Eurostat) publication of EU external trade. The basic differences between the publications are explained below.
The OTS are published as National Statistics by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). The OTS are based on the United Nation's International Merchandise Trade Statistics Concepts and Definitions (IMTS), as interpreted in EU Statistical legislation. The Balance of Payments are based on the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual , (BPM5), the System of National Accounts (SNA93) and the European System of Accounts (ESA95).
The conceptual differences in the recording of international transactions in goods between IMTS and BPM5/SNA93 concerns the coverage, time of recording, valuation and classification of goods transactions. The main conceptual difference is that IMTS is based on the general principle to record all goods that add to or subtract from the stock of material resources of a country by entering (imports) or leaving (exports) its economic territory, while the recording of transactions in the Balance of Payments is based on the principle of change of ownership. Balance of Payments methodology is explained in greater detail on the ONS website.
The main differences between the OTS and Eurostat EU external trade publication relate to the basis of the recording of trade under rules referred to as 'general trade' and 'special trade'.
OTS and ONS Balance of Payments data are published as 'general trade' based upon goods recorded as they enter or leave the UK. This will include goods imported into and exported from a freezone or customs warehouse, regardless of their future use. The ONS Balance of Payments data includes both Non-EU and EU data (and is seasonally adjusted).
Eurostat EU external trade data are published as 'special trade' whereby goods are recorded to trade only when they enter free circulation or are accepted into Inwards Processing Relief (IPR). Monetary gold is excluded from special trade.
These separate methods of publication are not the sole reason for the differences found when comparing the OTS and the external trade published by Eurostat. This explanation provides further details about instances where UK trade data compiled for the OTS differs from the data published by Eurostat on their statistical database (known as Comext).