Business

Tuesday 26 September 2017

We need more up-to-date statistics

Despite all that's happened over the past few years, Ireland is still a world leader in many areas.

One of these is in the transformation to a services economy. Ireland is set to be the first major world economy to switch from being a manufacturing powerhouse to a services one.

In 1998, just 17pc of Irish exports were services -- by early 2012, that figure was 49pc.

And yet, our statistics architecture is still designed for a merchandise world.

Earlier this month, the latest issue of 'Trade Statistics' was released by the CSO. A full 206 pages long, it deals exclusively with merchandise trade. I can tell you the value of ball-bearing exports in April (€43,000) and our exports to the North Mariana Islands between January and April (€3,000) -- but I can't tell you a thing about services exports.

To do that, I need to wait for quarterly 'Balance of Payments' statistics and even then, that will only tell me large aggregates ('Computer Services' versus 'Financial Services' is about as detailed as it gets).

It's this outdated categorisation that generates misleading monthly headlines about the large size of our trade surplus -- it's actually proportionately a good bit smaller when services are included.

To be fair to the CSO, these categories are generally set down at EU or even UN level. But if we want to understand our modern economy better -- to inform policy and to attract more business and jobs here -- Ireland needs to push for more modern statistics sooner.

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