Understanding OTS Data
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 (ICN). The structure of the nomenclature provides for presentation of the collected data in a variety of ways, from full access to the detailed (8 digit) commodity level data (accessible via the free to use interactive data tables - see 'Build your own tables') to aggregated data for commodity groupings (2 digit Tariff Chapter level), and overall aggregations for total imports, total exports, country totals etc.
Before accessing the various data products available within the Overseas Trade Statistics (OTS) data area (see link on right hand side), it is important to be familiar with the data fields and matters affecting their presentation:
Index of the Trade Data Dimensions with Basic Descriptions
Commodity code (described as Comcode or CN code)
OTS data are compiled at detailed 8-digit commodity code level, although the specific data product may present the data at a higher (aggregated) level of detail. Some data products may also be presented using a different form of classification (e.g. Standard International Trade Classification or SITC), which will have been prepared using a correlation from the original declaration. Please use the link [on the left hand side] for more information regarding classifications and codes.
For each commodity code presented there will also be a quantity (usually weight but sometimes number for larger items) and statistical value shown (as declared) in GB Pounds Sterling. Some (but not all) commodity codes have a second quantity known as supplementary units. This can be one of a number of measures such as square metres, litres, number of items etc., meaning caution should be applied when viewing data aggregated up from the detailed level - see the note below on Aggregation. Full details of supplementary units are set out in the UK Tariff which is available from The Stationery Office. Alternatively, information regarding the codes used for supplementary units and the requirements for EU trade can be viewed via the online ICN.
Country of Dispatch / Destination
UK imports and arrivals country data is published on the basis of the country of dispatch, i.e. the country from which the goods were originally dispatched to the UK. This is not necessarily the country of origin or manufacture, neither is it necessarily the last country from which the goods were shipped to the UK. UK exports and dispatches country data is published on the basis of the country of destination, i.e. the country of ultimate destination. This is the final country to which the goods are being exported from the UK.
OTS data are collected and published on a monthly basis. Quarterly and annual products are also made available in the 'Pre-prepared' area of the Overseas Trade Statistics (OTS) data pages. Data presented within the interactive data tables (see 'Build your own tables') may be manipulated by the user to display any combination of months within the relevant calendar year.
Definition of ‘Port’
Up to and including December 2006, 'Port' related to the geographical location of goods, and was the seaport/airport at which the goods entered or left the UK. This was identified by the completion of the 'Place of Loading/Unloading' box on the 'Single Administrative Document' (import and export customs declaration).
Changes to EU legislation with effect from January 2007 meant this 'Port' data was no longer collected. For statistical purposes, it was therefore decided to publish information on 'Place of Clearance' as a substitute. In many cases, these are one and the same.
Due to the switch to special trade reporting from May 2016, 'Port' (as compiled from 'Place of Clearance') will appear to be missing when searching for data on goods being removed from customs warehousing. This is because the requirement for approved operators to submit supplementary customs declarations for goods imported into customs warehousing is waived and, with it, the 'Port' data element. There is no requirement to declare 'Port' data for goods being removed from customs warehousing. However, there is likely to be some 'Port' data available (i.e. from businesses submitting full customs declarations for entry into customs warehousing or those who continue to submit customs supplementary declarations voluntarily). As a result, 'Port' data in these circumstances will be incomplete.
Definition of 'Place of Clearance'
'Place of Clearance' specifies the location where the goods are available for Customs examination/clearance. This will normally be the port at which the goods leave the UK (Exports) or enter the UK (Imports). For a small number of items (2-3% overall, based on 2005 data), the place of clearance will be an approved inland location, or a port different from the port at which the goods leave or enter the UK.
It is important to note that where 'Place of Clearance' data is being used as an indicator of Port, some information will be missing due to declarations under the inland/local clearance codes, and that there may be some distortion due to clearance being carried out at a port different from the actual port of import/export. An example of this could be where goods enter the UK at one airport but transit to another airport for clearance.