Each Member State of the European Union compiles its own external trade figures, in other words statistics on its cross-border movements of goods. A distinction is made between movements of goods between EU Member States (Intrastat), on the one hand, and trade flows with countries that do not belong to the European Union, on the other, (Extrastat). The former are called "intra-Community purchases and deliveries" as regards the value added tax code, and are labelled "arrivals" and "shipments" for statistical purposes. The names "imports" and "exports" remain used for movements with third party countries, as well as for describing external trade in general.
The entry into force, on 1 January 1993, of the Single European Market opened up internal borders and abolished customs formalities. However, statistical obligations remain in place.
At the end of 1994, the National Accounts Institute (NAI) was set up and has since delegated all its tasks in the field of foreign trade to the National Bank of Belgium. Since 1 January 1995, the Bank has been responsible for collecting all statistical data related to external trade, for compiling overall and anonymous statistics from individual observations and, finally, for making them available or publishing them in periodicals or on electronic media.
All those subject to VAT have to complete a declaration themselves, regarding their intra-Community trade, unless this does not exceed a threshold calculated on an annual basis. This is the Intrastat declaration. This declaration includes all data regarding goods arriving from other Member States and goods being sent to other Member States. It has to be sent directly to the National Bank either as a hard copy or online. Around 13,000 companies subject to this are relevant to this statistic.
It is important to note that if a business concerned by the Intrastat declaration fails to fill up and/or send it in to the National Bank within the prescribed time limit, administrative or legal sanctions may be imposed. These are described in Articles 19 to 23 of the Law of 4 July 1962 on official statistics.
When importing and exporting - when trading goods across the EU's external borders - customs forms must be completed and most notably the Extrastat declaration. The Belgian customs offices send copies of all statistics to the National Bank on a daily basis.