Using trade data

Most importing and exporting countries publish general trade data. This provides aggregated information on the quantities and values of trade of specific categories of products, between specific countries, in a given month or year. In some cases the data can be further broken down by port or region of origin or destination.

Though it cannot be used to identify supply chain connections at a company level, this data can be used to narrow down the overseas country targets of an investigation into a specific supply chain (when working from source), or help identify supply chains worthy of interest (when working from destination). Comparison of export data from one country with import data from another can also expose discrepancies which are indicative of illegal trade. If there are differences between the volume that is recorded as leaving one country and the volume recorded as entering the reported destingation, it may be indicative of timber smuggling, laundering, misclassification and under-declaration of volumes and values. For example, in the early 2000s, discrepancies in customs data for log exports from Indonesia and Malaysia and log imports by China showed how huge volumes of illegal Indonesian logs were being smuggled out of the country and misdeclared as of Malaysian origin on arrival in China (see Case Study 10).

Trade data are broken down by customs codes, which apply to specific categories of wood products. Understanding these codes is important for both analysing trade data and interrogating databases of shipment records [see Obtaining information from shipment records]. The codes are standardised internationally through the Harmonised System (HS). The number of digits in the code indicates the level of specificity. The first six digits are internationally standardised, while individual countries can break each code down further using eight- or ten-digit sub-categories. For example, timber is classified under HS Chapter 44; sawn timber under HS Code 4407; sawn timber of the main tropical wood species are included under HS Code 440729; and Indonesia classifies Ramin sawn timber under HS Code 4407295900.

The likelihood that a specific species or product has its own eight- or ten-digit code in a given country depends on the volume of trade. Generally, timber producing countries provide a more detailed breakdown than importing countries. In helping detect illegalities or narrow down research, wood product breakdowns in customs codes are more useful for logs, sawn timber and plywood (where specific species often have specific codes) than for more heavily processed items such as furniture.

Trade data for US imports and for EU member state imports, broken down by month and extremely up-to-date, are available in free online databases provided by USITC and Eurostat, respectively. Annual and some monthly import and export data to a six-digit HS code level for most other countries is available for free via the UNCOMTRADE online database. Some other countries have their own free online databases. Paid subscription services such as World Trade Atlas provide additional data not available elsewhere.