Trade Briefs

Africa’s trade data challenges – are commodities and areas not elsewhere specified and exports as ship stores and bunkers inexplicable inconsistencies in the data?

Africa’s trade data challenges – are commodities and areas not elsewhere specified and exports as ship stores and bunkers inexplicable inconsistencies in the data?

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26 Aug 2019

Author(s): Willemien Viljoen

Missing data and inaccuracies have meant that significant gaps in the trade data for unspecified commodities and trade with unspecified partners exist in many African countries. What are some of the inconsistencies in African trade data? What is the nature of these inconsistencies, and can they be resolved? Has the incidence of these issues increased over the last decade, rendering African trade data inaccurate and problematic for analysis and policy making?

The analysis in this Trade Brief shows that there are gaps in the African trade data which can have a significant impact on trade data analysis, especially at aggregated levels. Analysing trade specifically for policy and strategy formulation requires the data to be interrogated, on a case-by-case basis, at detailed levels to find possible answers to inexplicable trade flows and patterns. However, even in the latter case one can still be left with significant gaps in the data or curious product descriptions raising questions about what commodities certain African countries are truly trading with certain partners or who African countries are trading economically important commodities with.


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