Researching foreign markets is a crucial component of strategic planning and market entry. However, many companies make uninformed export decisions because they view international trade research as too costly, difficult and time-consuming.
Fortunately, lots of useful information is out there and, thanks to the Internet, much of it is easy to access and free of charge. Here are my favourite online sources of free international trade data:
My top pick is OECD.StatExtracts, because it is one of very few databases that offer statistics on trade in services by country and category, in addition to general statistics with current country profiles and economic indicators. The website is easy to use and you can browse using more than 20 themes. For example, the Globalisation theme includes data on the activity of multinationals, foreign direct investment, trade indicators, trade in intermediate goods and services, and trade by enterprise characteristics. I have spent hundreds of hours on this website and I’m still amazed by the vast quantity of free information available there.
The United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database hosts more than 1.75 billion trade records dating back as far as 1962. It allows you to make queries about the import, export, re-import and re-export of merchandise by such variables as commodity, year and country. Once it gives you statistics, you can generate accompanying graphs and maps, and view helpful explanatory notes. Research can be formatted for printing or downloaded in a CSV or SDMX format. And the site’s Knowledge base section provides visual step-by-step directions to assist with navigation.
Industry Canada’s Trade Data Online is also a great resource for Canadian companies that want to find export markets, scope out the competitive environment and identify domestic opportunities for import replacement. What I like most about this website is that it allows me to generate reports of the trade between individual provinces or regions of Canada and more than 200 countries by trade type, time period, value and product. The data tends to be up to date and reliable, because it comes from Statistics Canada and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Thomas Edison said that opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. Trade research might appear to be difficult, but don’t let its overalls fool you.