ABS response to "Confronting the information deficit" (The Age 26 March 2008)

This refers to article published on The Age on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 by Martin Feil entitled "Confronting the information deficit" (page 14). Mr Feil's claim that Australia's import statistics "distort our understanding of the consumption of imported and locally produced goods", appears to be based on a grossly overstated view of the impact of unrecorded imports on those statistics.

There is no evidence that the unrecorded imports he refers to are material in the terms of Australia's total import volumes. Imports reported to Customs but falling below the $1000 threshold are monitored by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and continue to account for less than 1% of total imports. Further, contrary to Mr Feil's assertion these values are accounted for in estimating Australia's balance on current account. Although the ABS is unable to account for low value imports not reported to Customs (overseas eBay purchases, international magazine subscriptions, etc.), again there is no evidence these are material in the context of overall trade statistics.

Both the reconciliation of Australian domestic consumption against production and imports data in Australia's national accounts and matching of physical imports data with international financial flows in the international accounts indicate that the value of any unrecorded imports is relatively small.

While the publication Mr Feil refers on very detailed imports data was ceased a long time ago, ABS continues to make information on imports of consumer goods available free on its website.

Ian Ewing
Deputy Australian Statistician
Macroecomics and Integration Group
Australian Bureau of Statistics