Standardized Definitions of Trade Data and Customs Terminology

Definition/Scope

The use of internationally standardized definitions of trade and transport data elements, such as consignee and consignor, declarant or goods declaration, is a very important aspect of trade facilitation. Standardized definitions of trade data and Customs terminology are those developed and maintained by the relevant international trade facilitation organizations, such as the World Customs Organizations and the UN Center for Trade Facilitation (UN/CEFACT). The WCO Data Model and the United Nations Trade Data Element Directory (UNTDED) represent the international standards for trade data element definitions. The WCO Revised Kyoto Convention and the WCO Glossary of International Customs Terms are the international standards for Customs terminology.

Problem statement

Some international trade transactions are very straightforward as they consist of one buyer and one seller and are conducted by an integrated delivery service from origin to destination. Many other trade transactions, however, are far more complex, involving many more players in the trading and logistics chain. For the sake of trade efficiency, Customs and other regulatory agencies along the supply chain should apply the same definitions for parties, commodities, locations, measurements, etc. to allow the trading community to use the information pertaining to this trade transaction for export, import, transit and other regulatory border formalites. If, however, Customs in the importing country decides to define, for example, the "consignee" to be the "buyer", then the management of trade data and the preparation and submission of goods and cargo declaration becomes a resource-intensive exercise for international traders and transport companies.

Implementation guidance

Governments should apply the international standard for trade data, the UNTDED and the WCO Data Model, as managed and maintained by UN/CEFACT and the World Customs Organization, when defining data for declaration purposes. Definitions for Customs procedures and relevant Customs good practices are contained in the Revised Kyoto Convention as well as in the Glossary of international Customs terms. Applying such standards will increase transparency and trade efficiency and will improve compliance.

In order to apply these international standards, a national data set should be developed which combines the data requirements of all relevant border agencies. The process of collection, rationalization and harmonization of these national trade data elements with the relevant international standards is well defined in the UN/CEFACT Recommendation 34 (see the four steps below).

Data simplification and standardization steps; Source: UN/CEFACT Rec. 34


Customs administrations are often the primary agency at a border and should therefore take the lead for this harmonization work and coordinate with all other border agencies. The development of such a national trade data set is an important prerequisite for Custom automation and Single Window developments.

Additional information (references, examples, etc.)

For more information on the WCO Data Model and principles of trade data interchange, please see e-business solutions.