Digital technologies are transforming virtually every aspect of the economy, and international trade is no exception. Businesses and households make increasing use of digital ordering. Many services that traditionally required proximity between producers and consumers are now traded at a distance. Online platforms are playing an increasingly important role in matching supply with demand and facilitating economic transactions.
Digitalisation is changing how products are purchased and delivered, yet traditional international trade statistics still focus almost exclusively on what is being traded and who is involved.
In response to growing demand for coherent and comparable data on digital trade, the OECD, WTO and IMF produced the first edition of the Handbook on Measuring Digital Trade in 2019. The Handbook formalised for the first time a statistical definition of digital trade which focuses on the nature of the transaction: “digital trade is all international trade that is digitally ordered and/or digitally delivered”.
Building on the first edition, the IMF, OECD, UNCTAD and WTO have produced a second edition of the Handbook on Measuring Digital Trade, published in 2023. While leaving the fundamental measurement framework unchanged, the second edition:
- Provides clarifications on the concepts and definitions related to digital trade, and to the guidelines on how to operationalise them.
- Offers extensive compilation guidance based on recent efforts in both developed and developing economies, covering a variety of relevant survey and non-survey sources.
- Puts forward a proposed reporting template.
The Handbook provides a consistent measurement framework to guide compilers in their efforts to measure digital trade. While further research and empirical testing will be needed to improve and refine the compilation approaches, the well-established conceptual framework constitutes the basis for the compilation of statistics on digital trade which are internationally comparable and consistent with the broader economic accounts.
The Handbook also provides the foundation for an active programme of technical assistance and statistical capacity-building, by which the four partner organisations, IMF, OECD, UNCTAD and WTO can support statistical compilers as they seek to measure, monitor, and respond to the challenges of measuring digital trade.