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D.        Towards improved institutional arrangements

5.17.        Improvement of institutional arrangements.  It is recommended that countries periodically review the effectiveness of their institutional arrangements (IMTS 2010, para. 8.17). Such reviews are particularly valuable for countries that face challenges in the provision of timely high-quality international merchandise trade statistics, as those difficulties can frequently be traced to ineffective institutional arrangements. The characteristics of effective institutional arrangements have been described in section B. To the extent that these institutional arrangements are established in national legislation or relevant administrative regulations, they usually cannot be changed in the short term, if at all. However, at the same time there exist a number of steps that interested countries can undertake in the short run, which can yield positive results in near the future. The following good practices should be taken into consideration, as applicable.

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1. Establishment of an inter-agency coordination committee and working groups

5.18.        Tasks of the coordination committee.  A permanent coordination committee would usually consist of the representatives of the top management of the involved agencies (or units, as applicable) and would act as an “upper-level” body concerned with the formulation and monitoring of the implementation of a long-term strategy aimed at ensuring the high quality of official international merchandise trade statistics.  Such a committee will promote systematic cooperation between the involved agencies in the identification and enactment of the measures that are within their prerogatives. To ensure that the work of such a committee is effective, it is good practice for its members to agree on and document the objectives and the rules of procedure of the committee.

5.19.        Meeting procedures of the coordination committee. It is good practice for the work programme of such a committee to be elaborated as soon as possible so as to facilitate the functioning of the committee; further, the agendas of the forthcoming meetings should be circulated well in advance and the meeting’s minutes kept, so that the process is made transparent and the implementation of the reached decisions can be evaluated. Responsibilities for the logistics of the activities should be distributed among the representatives of each participating agency so as not to overburden the responsible agency.

5.20.        Establishment of technical working group(s). To ensure that the strategic and managerial decisions of the permanent committee are implemented, it is a good practice to establish a technical working group (or groups), which reports to the committee. These working groups would be dealing on the regular basis with the detailed technical issues such as the compliance of data-collection procedures with the adopted trade statistics methodology, organization of effective data processing and data exchange, including the use of compatible information technology (IT) platforms, coordination of outreach activities, etc. It is good practice for the working group to formulate its work programme and periodically report on its implementation to the committee.

2. Activities of the coordination committee and working groups

5.21.        Activities of the permanent committee and the technical working group. It is advised that the following activities be included in the work programme of the committee and working group, as applicable, taking into account their respective mandates:

(a)    Formulation of a long- term strategy and actions for improving trade statistics. A long- term strategy is based on the review of the existing institutional arrangements and formulates actions for their improvement, as required and appropriate. Further, it entails the establishment and implementation of a MoU between the responsible agency and other governmental bodies involved in the compilation of trade statistics (see paras. 5.8 and 5.9 for details). The strategy should foresee such activities as the identification of data gaps and existing inefficiencies (e.g., unused data sources, duplication of work, communication barriers, etc.) and include the formulation and timing of actions to remove them;

(b)   Discussion of changes in custom regulations and other relevant regulatory provisions. The revision of the regulatory provisions may affect the availability and quality of information relevant for the compilation of international merchandise trade statistics. Therefore, the agencies involved in the preparation of such regulations and in the compilation of international merchandise trade statistics should discuss these changes in a timely manner in order to take into account the requirements for the compilation of trade statistics. In particular, the arrangements should allow for amending the rules on customs recording in order to maximize their usefulness for trade statistics;

(c)    Development of appropriate non-customs sources of data. Non-customs data sources need to be developed as required to achieve the full coverage of trade statistics. The responsible agency, together with the other members of the coordination committee, should develop an action plan which would ensure that such data sources are identified and the necessary agreements with other governmental or non-governmental bodies are reached to allow access to use of their administrative data, or that additional data are collected through a national survey programme;

(d)   Adoption of an integrated approach. The compilation and dissemination of international merchandise trade statistics should be seen as an integral part of the national statistical programme (see chapt. XI for details). Trade statisticians should cooperate with customs, other data providers and compilers of business statistics and statistics on international trade in services to make the best use of the available information and to realize efficiency gains in data compilation. Close cooperation with compilers of other statistics can both improve the international merchandise trade statistics and be beneficial to other statistical domains. For example, in view of limited resources and to ensure that work is not duplicated, it is good practice not to initiate any additional surveys of traders without proper consultations with the compilers of enterprise statistics, as it might be possible to amend existing surveys so as to incorporate trade statistics requirements. On the other hand, compilers of international merchandise trade statistics can assist colleagues who are responsible for statistics on international trade in services by, for example, passing on to them any available information on cost of goods transportation and insurance. The necessary working arrangements have to be established and systematically implemented;

(e)    Modernization of the IT infrastructure and inter-agency data exchange. The arrangements between the involved agencies must ensure the permanent access to the relevant primary data and facilitate consultations and revisions that are made during the statistical production process. It is good practice for the responsible agency to, inter alia, (i) take into account the technical systems available at the source agencies, and in particular, work closely with the customs administrations to incorporate validation rules into the automated data- collection system(s);  (ii) maximize the use of modern information technology for the exchange of data (e.g., virtual private networks (VPNs) and/or File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites, as well as the implementation of the SDMX standard); and (iii) oversee data security through use of appropriate control mechanisms (e.g., defined submitters, reception and connectivity testing, setting dates and times of delivery, verification of data transfer, etc.);

(f)    Establishment of informal arrangements. Regardless of the formal framework for collaboration, it is good practice for the involved agencies to establish regular communication between their staff to address technical issues that might emerge on a daily basis, such as the verification of the source information, the clarification of the metadata and the possible impact on data compilation of various regulatory changes, among others. This communication does not replace meetings involving all agencies for joint decisions on the work programme;

(g)   Organization of staff cross- training. For example, the interpretation of customs records by statisticians working for the national statistical office or central bank is facilitated when statisticians have knowledge of the customs operation in situ. It is good practice to arrange for visits of the statisticians to the customs ports in order to allow them to better understand the procedures for different types of customs declarations and the limitations of the data. It is also important that customs administrations, with the help of statistical offices and central banks, organize training of their staff on the applicable statistical requirements and the importance of customs records for the compilation of high-quality trade statistics;

(h)   Conduct of outreach activities. In order to ensure that the compiled data meet user demand and to secure user support, it is good practice to conduct periodic meetings with various user groups to make them aware of what data are available and how to use the data effectively, as well as to collect information on their needs to be included in planning further improvements in data compilation and dissemination. It is good practice also to invite to the meetings of the coordination committee, as necessary, other institutions and agencies (public, private and/or academic) with the aim of ensuring their potential contribution to the statistical process. For example, there can be meetings with various business associations to explain the importance of the accurate completion of the relevant customs documents and survey forms. Regular meetings with other government agencies, which are important users of the trade statistics, as well as with the compilers of national accounts and balance-of-payments statistics, are equally important, as these will help to achieve a better overall quality of national statistics.