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Q&A: historical Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) statistics

Question: I am looking for historical data on levels of foreign direct investment, particularly investments made by the various colonial powers in their colonies. I am told the post 1947 data exists on some Department of Commerce web site, but don't know the URL, and have no idea about any of the earlier stuff. Do you have any ideas about how to proceed?

Answer: Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is collected in many places and by many government agencies, primarily the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the World Bank and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). For the historical data, you'll want to use Direction of trade statistics historical (1948-1980) available on CDROM in Data Services, Velma Denning Room, first floor of Green Library.

Here are some other routes to explore:

  1. The World Bank's "World Tables of Economic and Social Indicators" has net FDI data for over 180 countries from 1950-1992. A Socrates search will lead you to it here in the library. It's also available via the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), a data repository to which Stanford belongs.
  2. UNCTAD's World Investment Reports and its FDI database also has data and statistics that include FDI. Country Factsheets for 188 economies are also available for current data.
  3. OECD's International Direct Investment Statistics Yearbook as well as the individual country OECD Reviews of Foreign Direct Investment, one of which is the U.S., also will help. The yearbook collects data from 1992 - present.
  4. IMF's International Financial Statistics will give additional data and stats.
  5. World Bank's Global Development Finance may also help as well as looking generally at the Bank's International Economics Dept. titles.
  6. On the US side of things, you can find Frederick M. O'Hara's Handbook of United States economic and financial indicators located at the Green Information Center and at Jackson Business Library (HC106.8 .O47 2000). There's a 1985 edition and a 2000 revised edition available.
  7. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) has good statistics and data. In particular, for the U.S., the single largest FDI in total $$ volume and total FDI cases between 1940s - 1980s, you might look at:

    U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Survey of Current Business, February 1981. "Trends in the U.S. Direct Investment Position Abroad, 1950-79."

  8. Scan through articles in Business America, which is a Dept of Commerce magazine. It's print and online and has good summary pieces on international trade -- including FDI -- such as John Rutter's "Recent and future trends in international direct investment", Business America, August 6, 1984. It's indexed in ABI/INFORM, a business database.
  9. Go to Department of commerce. International Trade Administration. Trade Policy Information System for trade statistics of over 170 countries (from the United Nations); and multi-country statistics on international finance, direction of trade, balance of payments and developing country debt.
  10. Last but not least, most of the above can be found in EconLit or Google Scholar using phrases like "FDI" and "direction of trade".

One final note: If you go back into colonial history much before 1945 the concept of Foreign Direct Investment doesn't really apply as a form of statistical analysis. But there is a large body of scholarly work on the economics of colonies. A general Subject keyword search of Socrates for "economic" and "colonies" will yield a large number of books on the economic history of imperialism and colonialism, plus many monographs on specific colonies of the various European powers.

Please contact the Information Center if you need more help.

Q&A: Average tariff levels

Question: I'm looking for data on the average tariff level of the following states: US, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland,Japan, Australia, and New Zealand from 1962-1989. Any version of the average tariff (weighted average) would be fine. I read somewhere that the World Bank had this data but I have been unable to find it.

Answer: In general, for any statistics question, I always start at the Library's database page for statistics and numeric data. SourceOECD, the UN Common Database (UNCDB), and the World Bank's World Development Indicators are good places to start for international statistics (all 3 are subscription databases).

In this case, however, you'll need to go outside of Stanford Library. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has kept trade statistics since its inception in 1964. Recently, UNCTAD, the World Bank, UN Statistics Division, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) combined resources to build the World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS). WITS gives access to the major trade and tariffs data compilations:

  • The COMTRADE database maintained by the UNSD;
  • The "TRade Analysis and INformation System (TRAINS) maintained by UNCTAD;
  • The IDB and CTS databases maintained by the WTO.

To make a long story shorter, you can use the TRAINS database to get average tariff statistics. TRAINS provides online access to indicators of Trade Control Measures (Tariff, Para-tariff and Non-tariff measures), as well as imports by suppliers for over 150 countries. Registration is free at

The drawback to TRAINS is that it only goes back to 1988. The World Bank has a page devoted to "trade and import barriers" that I have used before. There's a dataset called "Trends in average applied tariff rates in developing and industrial countries, 1981-2005," but is incomplete.

Prior to the 1980s, you'll need to search the journal and documents literature and/or do your own calculations for average tariffs. Worldwide Political Science Abstracts, EconLit, and the World Bank e-Library are all good sources for journal articles having to do with international trade.

Also check the following documents for possible leads and data tables:

Lastly, the library has a subscription to the International Customs Journal, published by the International Customs Tariffs Bureau (ICTB). This journal lists provisions of each country's customs tariff law and has detailed lists of items (steel, textiles, machinery, live animals, arms etc...) and the tariff charged for each item. This journal goes back to 1891 in microfilm, print and CDROM. More recently (it looks like 2000 - present), the ICTB has made that information accessible online in a searchable database.

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