Last Published: 7/21/2016

Merchandise trade can be measured two ways:

  1. Census Basis
  2. Balance of Payments Basis

Census Basis

Goods data compiled from the documents collected by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and reflect the movement of goods between foreign countries and the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and U.S. Foreign Trade Zones. They include government and non-government shipments of goods and exclude shipments between the United States and its territories and possessions, transactions with U.S. military, diplomatic and consular installations abroad, U.S. goods returned to the United States by its Armed Forces, personal and household effects of travelers, and in-transit shipments.


Goods exports are typically presented as the Free Alongside Ship (FAS) export value while goods imports are typically presented as the Customs Import Value:

  • Free Alongside Ship (FAS) Export Value: Transaction price of the merchandise including inland freight, insurance, and other charges incurred in placing the merchandise alongside the carrier at the U.S. port of exportation. The value excludes any loading, transportation, or insurance costs beyond the port of exportation.

  • Customs Import Value: Price paid for merchandise when sold for exportation to the U.S. Additional costs for shipment, delivery and import duties, are not included.

Balance of Payments (BOP) Basis

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) adjusts goods totals on a Census basis to bring the data in line with the concepts and definitions used to prepare the international and national accounts. These adjustments are necessary to supplement coverage of the Census basis data, to eliminate duplication of transactions recorded elsewhere in the international accounts, and to value transactions according to a standard definition. These adjustments also allow for the goods trade totals to be summed with services trade totals for a more accurate account of U.S. total trade.

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