Business, Trade and International Development

Last updated on Tuesday 9 November 2021

Our Business, Trade and International Development domain oversees the regulation of statistics on company structure, size and location; closures or mergers; and turnover, international and UK trade, and research and development.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought uncertainty for businesses, and many have had to adapt to new ways of operating.

In 2020/21 we will focus on the public good profile of trade, business demography, retail sales statistics and keep a watching brief on international development statistics.

We will seek to raise the profile of business statistics produced by trade and industry bodies, through the promotion of the voluntary adoption of the Code of Practice amongst these bodies. The outcomes of this work will ensure policymakers, businesses and the public are well placed to understand the dynamics of UK business as the UK exits the European Union.

Contact Office for Statistics Regulation Business, Trade and International Development Regulators Iain Russell, Ben Bohane and Hannah Jeffery for more information.

Current issues in this domain


The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS’s) UK trade statistics are produced using high quality systems and processes. Data inputs are quality assured with suppliers and statistical estimates of the UK’s exports and imports are compared with those of trading partners to help better understand quality. Differences in these comparative measures, however, mean that a degree of uncertainty exists around the quality of these statistics and users will need to continue to take this into account in their use. ONS has made notable progress in understanding the scope and structure of these asymmetries and what they mean for quality.

OSR Position

ONS’s UK Trade statistics were de-designated as National Statistics in 2014. Since then, ONS has made significant efforts to improve the quality of these statistics. Improvements have been achieved through a systematic review of statistical processing that has allowed ONS to identify and remove errors in published statistics. ONS is also making further improvements to increase transparency on data quality assurance processes and improve management of data processing following input from the Government Data Quality Hub.

One of the main remaining questions over the quality of ONS trade estimates arises from the uncertainty around differences in estimates of bilateral trade known as asymmetries[1]. All countries have asymmetries and addressing them is challenging.

ONS has made significant strides during the last year to understand and begin quantifying the factors and causes of the UK’s bi-lateral trade asymmetries. In February 2021 the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE) published a paper on Using a model to understand more about UK trade in services asymmetries. The paper uses a methodology developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to produce a reconciled asymmetry dataset for UK trade-in-services. The resulting dataset confirmed that the most challenging measurement issue for UK trade statistics lies with the recording of trade-in-services imports.

Coverage of trade-in-services activity was enhanced in 2018 by an increase to the size of the International Trade in Services Survey (ITIS) sample. This enabled ONS to expand its trade-in-services statistics by country, activity, industry, business characteristics and mode of supply. The survey sample has also been re-designed to enable better understanding of the service trade activity of small UK businesses. This will help to improve the quality of estimates of trade-in-services, particularly of imports.

ONS plans to use these improved data, and to continue to work with the OECD, the WTO and trading partners, to further understand and explain asymmetries. This improved understanding will be of significant value to policy makers and the newly appointed cross-party commission on trade as the UK reviews its trading relationship with Europe and negotiates trade deals with non-EU countries.

Resolving asymmetries is challenging, but with trade talks ongoing, it is imperative that the momentum generated over the last year continues to ensure that these issues be resolved quickly to ensure that the statistics used to inform future discussions meet with the requirements of the Code of Practice for Statistics.

[1] Asymmetries are differences in trade data reported by one country and the corresponding data reported by a bilateral trading partner.

Planned Work

ProjectGeographyProject TypeTimescale
UK Trade Statistics (Office for National Statistics)United KingdomAssessment: Phase 2Continuing from 2021/22
Annual Business Survey (Office for National Statistics)United KingdomAssessment: Phase 2Continuing from 2021/22
Business Demography (Office for National Statistics)United KingdomAssessment: Phase 2Continuing from 2021/22
Annual Purchases Survey (Office for National Statistics)United KingdomAssessment: Phase 2Continuing from 2021/22
Coherence of Trade statisticsUnited KingdomCompliance CheckContinuing from 2021/22

Published Correspondence –  Business, Trade and International Development domain

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