About Overseas Trade Statistics (OTS) Data

International trade in goods data are published by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) as the 'Overseas Trade Statistics (OTS) of the UK'. They are based on the United Nation's International Merchandise Trade Statistics Concepts and Definitions, as interpreted in EC statistical legislation, and are published in accordance with the National Statistics Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

International trade in goods data detailing trade between the UK and non-EU countries are collected from UK Customs import and export entries made by importing/exporting businesses, predominantly via the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system.

The value of international trade in goods data from trade between the UK and other Member States of the EU is collected from VAT-registered businesses via the VAT return. For those with a larger turnover more detail is collected from HM Revenue & Customs' Intrastat survey, which collects monthly data from businesses whose EU trade exceeds the Intrastat Exemption Threshold.

OTS are compiled 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. These provide an eight-digit numeric codification for all products traded around the world. For each commodity declared, businesses must provide details of the quantity and statistical value in GB Pounds Sterling, the destination country (exports) and country of despatch (imports), and for some codes, a second quantity (supplementary unit).

In addition to the data collected from detailed import, export and Intrastat declarations, the OTS for trade between the UK and other Member States of the EU include a number of trade estimates. Businesses trading below the Intrastat Exemption Threshold contribute data by completing two boxes on the UK VAT return. All VAT-registered businesses must declare the value of their supplies to and acquisitions from other EU Member States, predominantly on a quarterly basis. These values are allocated to the OTS based upon the patterns of trade of similar businesses trading just above the threshold.

Estimates are also made for the total value of trade missing from Intrastat declarations where businesses have failed to submit all or any of their data by the due date. Since July 2005, an adjustment has also been made for the impact of Missing Trader Intra Community (MTIC) VAT fraud. This quantifies the missing Intrastat Arrival (import) data connected with the fraud, and does not reflect the level of the fraud itself. 

More detailed information regarding OTS data fields, estimates, revisions and important limitations to be aware of when aggregating published data can be accessed by selecting Understanding OTS data.  

Regional Trade Statistics are also produced by HMRC from the OTS dataset. These statistics provide a breakdown of the flows of imports and exports between regions of the UK and other partner countries, presented in the standard Government Office Region (GOR) geography. Click on the link in the 'Related links' box to access the RTS area.