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U.S.-Chinese Statistics Working Group Reports On Differences in U.S.-China Trade Data

Washington, DC – The U.S. Department of Commerce is today releasing findings of an analytic report on the differences between the official trade statistics produced by the United States and China. This report was prepared cooperatively by analysts in the United States and China as part of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade Statistics Working Group (JCCT SWG).

“This report is the culmination of significant effort by the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade,” said U.S. Commerce Department Under Secretary Rebecca Blank. “The findings will help to inform our understanding of trade data going forward and this effort lays the foundation for further statistical cooperation between both countries.” “In closely comparing and assessing differences between U.S. and Chinese trade data, understanding of our bilateral trade flows has been enhanced in both countries,” said Deputy United States Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis. “This exercise reflects positively on the U.S. and Chinese experts involved and on the opportunities for positive interaction between the United States and China.”

Official Chinese data on exports to the U.S. are typically lower than official U.S. data on imports from China. Similarly, China reports higher imports from the U.S. than the U.S. reports that it exports to China. The result is that Chinese data have historically shown a much smaller trade deficit with the U.S. than do U.S. data.

The analysis shows that, although the level of discrepancies has increased as bilateral trade has grown, the statistical discrepancy has proportionally decreased. Between 80 and 90 percent of the discrepancy in the trade numbers involves eastbound trade (China to the United States). This includes both direct trade between the nations as well as indirect trade, when goods that are shipped via intermediary countries, such as Hong Kong.

As much as 52 percent of the discrepancy in eastbound trade data is due to discrepancies in the indirect trade data, when goods are repackaged and/or repriced. Most of the remaining discrepancy occurs in the direct trade data, when goods are sold in-transit and often repriced. This occurs most commonly with processed goods. Accounting for these and other differences in data collection and processing, the remaining eastbound trade data discrepancy is between 8 and 12 percent of total U.S. imports.

Chinese-U.S. Bilateral Merchandise Trade Statistics 2000, 2004, 2006
(Values in Billions of U.S. Dollars)
(Bound for United States)
(Bound for China)
 Year Chinese Exports U.S. Imports Difference Difference as a % of Imports  Chinese Imports U.S.
Difference Difference as % of Imports
2000 52.1 100.0 48.0 47.9 22.4 16.3 6.1 27.3
 2004 125.0 196.7 71.8 36.5  44.7 34.7 9.9 22.3
 2006 203.5 287.8 84.3 29.3  59.2 55.2 4.0 6.7

The goal of this study was to clarify differences in reporting, thereby facilitating a better understanding among data users of the actual trade situation - not to change the official statistics of either country.

The working group comprised the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic and Statistics Administration and U.S. Census Bureau; the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China; and, the Chinese General Administration of Customs. The report was signed at the 20th meeting of the JCCT in Hangzhou, China in October 2009.


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