Guide to IMF Direction of Trade Statistics


The Direction of Trade Statistics (DOTS) database contains data on the value of merchandise exports and imports between each country and all its trading partners.

Total bilateral and multilateral exports and imports are aggregated at national or regional group level. For each reporting country or group, all the trading partners are listed. The corresponding monetary values of total imports and total exports are then provided as time series for each country/trading partner pair. All exports are valued Free on Board (f.o.b.). Imports are usually reported Cost including Insurance and Freight (c.i.f.) although a small number of countries report imports f.o.b..

Area and world aggregates showing trade flows between major areas of the world are presented as well. Reported data are supplemented by estimates whenever such data are not current or are not available in monthly frequency.

The data in the DOTS are expressed in US Dollars. As most of the countries report in their national currency, US dollar equivalents are obtained by converting data at period average exchange rates published in lines 'rf' or 'rh' on the country tables in International Financial Statistics. Data are generally converted at their highest available frequency and are subsequently aggregated to longer periods: for example, monthly data are converted at monthly exchange rates and the resulting US dollar equivalents are aggregated to quarterly and annual values.

Free on Board and Cost including Insurance and Freight

Each individual country's export data is shown f.o.b. whereas the import data is usually shown c.i.f.. For the calculation of area totals the import data reported f.o.b. are adjusted to a c.i.f. basis by applying a c.i.f./f.o.b. factor of 1.1.

Free on Board means the seller's obligation to deliver is fulfilled when the goods have passed over the ship's rail at the named port of shipment. This means that the buyer has to bear all costs and risks of loss of, or damage to, the goods from that point.

Cost including Insurance and Freight means the seller must pay the costs and freight necessary to bring the goods to the named port of destination but the risk of loss of, or damage to, the goods, as well as any additional costs due to events occurring after the time the goods have been delivered on board the vessel, is transferred from the seller to the buyer when the goods pass the ship's rail in the port of shipment. In addition, the seller has to procure marine insurance against the buyer's risk of loss of or damage to the goods during the carriage. The seller contracts for insurance and pays the insurance premium. The buyer should note that under the c.i.f. term the seller is only required to obtain insurance on minimum coverage. The c.i.f. term requires the seller to clear the goods for export.

The terms c.i.f. and f.o.b. are defined for goods transported by sea or inland waterway. However, in practice, they are applied to all imports and exports. UN guidelines recommend that imports be valued at the c.i.f. transaction value at the frontier of the importing country. For exports, the guidelines recommend valuation at the f.o.b. transaction value at the frontier of the exporting country.

Import and Export Inconsistency

There can be inconsistencies between exports to a partner and the partner's recorded imports from a particular country, i.e. the exports from Country A to B do not always equal the imports of Country B from A. This is due to the different ways countries report their trade, i.e. differences in classification concepts and detail, time of recording, valuation, and coverage, as well as processing errors. The Guide to Direction of Trade Statistics provides more information on sources of inconsistency.

The IMF DOTS show the reporter country, the partner country and the reporter flow so any inconsistencies are clearly visible. 

Main topics

Updated once a month, the IMF Direction of Trade Statistics contains over 100,000 quarterly and annual time series data. The period for which data are available varies from country to country but most countries’ data extend from the 1980’s to the present.

Data that countries report to the IMF on exports and imports by trading partners vary in frequency and currentness. The 23 industrial countries and about 40 developing countries report their data by month on a regular basis. In recent years, these countries have represented more than 85 percent of the value of recorded world exports and imports. Other countries report monthly data that are less current, or they compile and provide only quarterly or annual data. In general the data for individual countries are reported by official national agencies to the Fund or through their official publications. For some countries, the data reported to the United Nations Statistical Division have been used. For most member countries of the European Union, monthly data are sourced from Eurostat.

In the IMF DOTS 'country' does not only refer to a territorial entity that is a state as understood by international law and practice, the term also covers some non-sovereign territorial entities such as the European Union or Africa. See the IMF's Country Information.

IMF DOTS Estimation Methodologies

The partner country information makes it possible to estimate trade not only for countries less current in their reporting but also for countries for which data are not available from other sources. For a given year the percentage of world trade that is estimated declines over time, as data reported by countries replace the estimates. Estimation procedures include:

  • if monthly DOTS are unavailable, quarterly or annual reported DOTS are used
  • if quarterly data are available, they are distributed over the relevant months using DOTS reported for other partner countries, IFS monthly totals or an even distribution
  • if the only data available is annual, other estimation procedures (in addition to those already given) include DOTS reported from the most recent annual report or extrapolations of the most recent data or estimates

Where data is not available for both trading partners during the latest ten years or more, estimated trade flow data is not provided. Full details of DOTS estimation procedures are described in A Guide to Direction of Trade Statistics.

Access IMF data

Access to the IMF Direction of Trade Statistics via UKDS.Stat is freely available to all. 

Effective January 1st 2015, the IMF introduced a new policy whereby access to the IMF online statistics databases became free to all users.  As a result of this policy the IMF datasets hosted by the UK Data Service are now freely available to all. Please refer to the IMF’s Special Terms and Conditions Pertaining to the Use of Data.


The IMF produces the documentation below to accompany the DOTS:


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