Confidentiality in foreign trade statistics

Confidentiality impacts the data accuracy at the most detailed level (Regulation (EC) No 223/2009 on European statistics (recital 24 and Article 20(4)) of 11 March 2009 (OJ L 87, p. 164), stipulates the need to establish common principles and guidelines ensuring the confidentiality of data used for the production of European statistics and the access to those confidential data with due account for technical developments and the requirements of users in a democratic society. ). However, the application of the confidentiality procedures should not impact the results at total trade level.

Types of confidentiality

Information about a product being traded may be regarded as commercially sensitive by the information provider for either the value of trade, the quantity of trade, or perhaps the ratio between the two, since this would give an indication of the price of the product. There are various ways in which the nature of the product can be suppressed although at the cost of a loss of information to the user of the statistics. Alternatively, the information provider may regard the origin or destination of goods as commercially sensitive. There are three types of confidentiality:

i) Partner Confidentiality: in order to conceal the destination or the origin of a product, the code of the partner country is replaced by a 'secret country code', different for intra- and extra-EU trade.

ii) Product confidentiality: in order to suppress the nature of the commodity involved, all or part of the trade is allocated to a confidential product code.

iii) Product and Partner Confidentiality: the two preceding types are applied at the same time; therefore both the partner and the product are hidden.

The levels of these three types of confidentiality can be assessed using data available in the Eurostat Comext database, where special codes are used for suppressing partner or product.

The impact of confidentiality over total trade, in terms of trade value, net mass and number of eight-digit product codes (CN8) is documented in the Quality Report on International Trade Statistics (2015).

Example: Blocking confidential trade statistics

Blocking of individual commodity codes, for example in Germany, only takes place at the request of companies subject to reporting requirements. The data can be blocked if fewer than three companies report in one delivery direction in the relevant commodity code or if the value share of one company dominates in this commodity code. The check is based on the data from the previous 12 months.

Blocking is always limited in time. It is valid for the year of application and the following year.

Strategies to make confidential data at least partially visible

It is possible that data are considered confidential by only one of the two partners.

Example: CN Code 39074000, "Polycarbonates, in Primary Forms", Exports Germany

The export values for polycarbonate are not shown in German foreign trade. Covestro - the main player in polycarbonates - (formerly Bayer MaterialScience) prefers to treat its foreign trade as a trade secret, for example to protect its product monopoly or to conceal actual business developments from potential competitors, investors or the public.

However, in this case only German polycarbonate exports are banned. Polycarbonate, which is imported from Germany by the other EU member states, is not. In this way, the missing data can still be determined.

EU Polycarbonate Imports from Germany