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Australia’s secret imports and exports revealed

Simon Sharwood
11 January 2012 1 minute readShare

For certain commodities, Australia doesn’t want the rest of the world – or local protest groups – to know just how much we import and export. But new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals what we’re hiding – and why.

Does your business trade “parboiled rice”? Perhaps “Raw hides and skins of kangaroo”* are your stock in trade. In either case, and for hundreds of other commodities, the Australian Bureau of Statistics allows you to hide the extent of your trade in its statistics.

The Bureau has two reasons to let you hide, one of which is confidentiality. As explained in the Information Paper: Request to Confidentialise International Trade Data, the first reason is to protect individuals’ identities.

But there are also wider geopolitical forces behind the ability to confidentialise trade data, with the Information Paper picking out four such reasons, namely:

  • Detailed knowledge of trade in certain commodities could be damaging to their business activities;
  • Businesses might not want the market to know just what they trade, with whom and where, for reasons of confidentiality;
  • Some imported commodities may be the subject of an anti-dumping inquiry; or exports to or imports from certain countries may be politically sensitive
  • Disclosure of the country of origin/destination may provoke protests or boycotting from other countries or some sections of the local community.

There are hundreds of commodities on the lists, which you can access in the newly-released Confidential Commodities List. Many, like parboiled rice, seem not to have an obvious reason for being on the list.

But others on the list, like Uranium, make more sense. In our trawl through the list we also found that a metal called Tantulum is listed. Tantalum is quite a rare metal and Australia is currently the world’s biggest producer but seems to have a chasing pack of would-be Tantalum miners, some with superior deposits. Throw in China’s interest in cornering the market for rare metals to make its own reserves more valuable and you can see why keeping our exact level of exports quiet seems a decent idea.

Which brings us back to those kangaroo hides and skins. Might they be on the list to make it harder for animal rights activists to understand the full extent of the trade in our national animal? Let us know your theory for the grant of confidentiality in the DISQUS field below.

* The commodity on the list is actually “Raw hides and skins of kangaroo, fresh, salted, dried, limed, pickled or otherwise preserved, but not tanned, parchment-dressed or further prepared, whether or not dehaired or split,” but that was too long to put at the top.

Australia’s secret imports and exports revealed
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Simon Sharwood

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