Import data delay linked directly to confidentiality restrictions – what’s going on?

In a departure from the normal consistency of data provision, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was unable to deliver import data on the scheduled date in November. The cause was technical challenges created by what can only be described as an explosion in requests for confidentiality restrictions to be applied to imports.

Ultimately, the ABS failed to deliver any import data in November, finally electing to release two months of data (for September and October) in December 2018.

In its initial urgent advice to clients, the ABS advised:

“Due to the detailed information released in these subscriptions and the growing number of business requesting confidentiality restrictions, the process for compiling this information is becoming more complex and is taking more time. An issue was discovered in the last stages of compilation of these data, which needs to be addressed before the data can be released.”

Since the initial advice, IndustryEdge has seen the detailed list of codes for which new confidentiality restrictions are being applied.

What stands out in the restrictions is that the significant majority relate to or at least include, imports from Asia. All are related to very similar industrial processes that to our eye, are directly related to one or more large oil and gas projects.

Products newly impacted are a seemingly wide range of industrial products, from oil seals, gaskets and tube and pipe fixtures, to pumps, actuators, fittings, DC motors and instruments to control fluid movements.

A small number of the new confidentiality restrictions include imports from China, but more still include those from Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Singapore, most notably.

It is not possible to determine exactly who has sought the confidentiality restrictions.

We can advise that no new confidentiality restrictions apply to any paper or board products, although one (for Uncoated Woodfree Reels & Sheets <150 gsm) was renewed.

There is much that could be said about the application of confidentiality restrictions on trade data, in an era where everyone purports to be committed to the principles of free trade. But, actions speak louder than words.

One industry group we advise is drafting its submission to the Australian Government as the Government prepares for the Australia/European Union free trade agreement negotiations. We understand they may submit that the Australian Government should only conclude FTAs where the agreement severely limits the application of confidentiality restrictions between the parties to the FTA.

How can we summarise this situation? The concept of free trade must be a nonsense while ever transparency and openness of information are used as a weapon to the advantage of one party or another. It should be lost on none that few countries are as single-minded in the pursuit of FTAs as Australia, yet at the same time, almost none is as liberal in allowing one of the fundamental principles of free trade – transparency – to be avoided and obscured in this manner.

This item was originally published in Pulp & Paper Edge in November, 2018

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