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Services Statistics Get New Boost

Change will reduce balance-of-payments deficit, more accurately reflect US trade

By Ron SchererStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 23, 1994



NEW YORK

AN architecture firm in Chicago wins a contract to design a building in Taiwan; a Hollywood film becomes a hit overseas; a Mexican couple travels to the United States on an American carrier.

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All of these are services, generating income from abroad. Until this month, the US did not count them in the monthly balance of payments statistics that relied solely on the trade in goods.

Instead, the services statistics were compiled by the Commerce Department on a quarterly basis. Now, they will be included in the monthly statistics released by the Census Bureau. The new report will be called the US International Trade in Goods and Services report.

The main reason for the change is to more accurately reflect the US trade position. However, it is also the result of lobbying by the service sector, which wants to focus more official attention on the importance of services to the US economy.

The immediate effect will be to reduce the monthly trade deficit, which showed a preliminary net deficit of $115.8 billion last year. The Commerce Department estimates that in 1993 there was a net surplus of $55.6 billion in services.

Thus, on the basis of the 1993 numbers, including services reduces the net deficit to $60.2 billion. In the past, this net number was reflected in a quarterly survey called the Current Account balances.

Under the old report, the merchandise trade numbers had sometimes been adjusted sharply in succeeding months.

Now, the Commerce Department expects the services statistics to be ``more smooth.'' It will get the numbers from private commercial sources, such as how many people buy tickets from foreign airlines, and from surveys, such as corporate estimates of annual royalties and fees.

However, companies will not be asked to complete more surveys. Instead, the department will try to estimate the monthly numbers. The actual numbers will not be available until much later.

The US has the largest services surpluses with Japan, Canada, Germany, and Britain.

The largest categories of services in 1992 were travel ($53.8 billion), passenger fares ($17.3 billion), port services ($14.4 billion), freight transportation ($7.2 billion), and education ($6.1 billion).

Other important services are financial services, telecommunications, films, and engineering.