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International Price Program: Presentation

BLS publishes hundreds of import and export price indexes every month. These include price indexes for aggregate merchandise goods, air freight and air passenger services, merchandise goods imports by locality of origin, merchandise goods exports by locality of destination, and U.S. terms of trade indexes by locality. Indexes are published by industry (North American Industry Classification System), by commodity area (harmonized system), and by end use (end use classification). In addition to regular index releases, publications include analysis articles and the data are used in scholarly studies and in the production of gross domestic product (GDP) and other official statistics.


The primary U.S. Import and Export publication is the monthly news release, which contains summary text, data tables, and a technical note. The summary text describes price movements and trends. The tables provide index values, relative importance values, monthly percent changes, and annual percent changes for corresponding price indexes. Lastly, the technical note at the end of the news release describes the classification systems and the methods used to calculate the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes, the guidelines for price data collection, data revision policy, and uses of the data. In addition to the release, interactive charts are available that cover major import categories, major export categories, select import localities, export grains, and air passenger fares. Links to the LABSTAT database, which is a database that contains the complete set of available data, can be found on the home page as well.

Additional outputs that are updated monthly in tandem with the news release include the index and percent change tables, history tables, and percent change and analysis tables. Index and percent change tables are formatted like the data tables included in the release and comprise all published price index data for each classification system. The detail includes import and export index data at the five-digit level under the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) end-use classification, the six-digit level under the NAICS classification, and the four-digit level under the harmonized classification. Starting in 2019, indexes are published for commodity areas with at least $4.76 billion in annual import or export trade value. Some exceptions are made for published BEA end-use indexes that fall below the minimum dollar value yet remain statistically robust because of their importance in deflating the net exports component of GDP. Commodity areas with smaller dollar values are incorporated into the calculation of higher level indexes, but typically are not published separately. The history tables display the index values for all published index series for all months each series is published.

Lastly, the percent change and analysis tables provide the most complete set of historical data that BLS makes available for a particular import or export price index. These tables are published for

  •     all imports
  •     all exports
  •     each of the end-use classification indexes at the one-digit level of aggregation
  •     the import price indexes aggregated by locality of origin
  •     the export price indexes aggregated by locality of destination
  •     U.S. terms of trade indexes by locality
  •     advanced technology product indexes
  •     select major merchandise goods indexes.

Index values may be revised up to 3 months following the initial release. The data displayed in the percent change and analysis tables are the index values, monthly percent changes, quarterly percent changes, and 12-month percent changes for every month that this select group of indexes has been published.

Other publications produced by IPP analyze specific indexes and aspects of the U.S. economy. Some of these publications review how the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes relate to particular industries, regional areas, and uses, while others provide a comprehensive background and study regarding an area of interest. Industry pamphlets review the performance of a particular industry’s corresponding U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes, which factors played a role in the index movement, and which states were involved in that industry. Regional pamphlets observe the movements of specific export indexes related to a state’s or U.S. region’s main exporting industries. The contract escalation pamphlet takes a detailed look at how U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes can be used for that purpose. The Variance Estimates for Price Changes in the Import and Export Price Indexes January–December 2018 provide variance statistics for select indexes. Information and tables are available on the comparability of import prices to their PPI counterparts. Monthly Labor Review (MLR) and Beyond the Numbers articles examine more comprehensive economic issues. These articles could include a historical piece involving a highly traded commodity, or an in-depth study about how international prices compared with other economic indicators. In addition, several external academic papers used U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes data for exchange rate studies, as well as industry-specific studies of imports or exports. Information is also available for import and export survey respondents who provide the data to BLS that are used to calculate indexes.

All publications, as well as links to academic papers that reference import and export pricing data, can be found on the MXP home page. Users may also subscribe to receive a monthly email that is sent whenever the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes are updated by clicking “BLS News Service Subscription Page” in the box labeled MXP Contacts at the bottom of the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes home page.

Uses for the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes

The U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes have many uses and users. What follows are some illustrative examples of the uses of these statistics.

Adjusting foreign trade statistics

Data from the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes are used to adjust U.S. Government foreign trade statistics for price level changes. Produced by the BEA, the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) contain a net export component that is real exports minus real imports. Following are the basic formulas for deriving GDP and real imports:





Import and export price index data are used by the BEA to revise the nominal import and nominal export values in order to obtain their real values:




Depending on the movement of the indexes, an import’s nominal value could be more or less than its real value. The same is true for exports. NIPA are not the only government statistics produced using import and export price data to deflate certain components. The Census Bureau uses import and export price indexes to deflate its monthly foreign trade statistics. In general, the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes can be used to deflate any type of import or export volume statistic into real terms. For example, a company that exports raw cotton might keep a measure of its sales in current dollar terms. In order to report the real value of sales to stockholders, the company needs a method to convert sales values into constant dollars. The company would be able to make this conversion by deflating sales statistics using the export price index for raw cotton. Any of the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes can be used for deflation purposes, provided the data being deflated use a similar definition for an import or an export as is used for the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes.

Contract adjustment

Other ways to use the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes data include contract adjustment and trade agreement negotiation. Many economic transactions are formalized with contracts. Sometimes a business or government agency needs to ensure that the payment for some output or input is equal in real terms to what was desired when the contract was signed. A specific import or export price index can be used to equate a dollar amount in the future with a specific dollar amount at the time of signing. Government agencies that have used the data in negotiating trade contracts include the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Examining currency exchange rate effects

Exchange rates play a vital role in the pricing of imports and exports. Data users can use U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes in a number of ways to analyze the effects that exchange rates have on the economy. The first method is to construct an import or export price index expressed in foreign currency terms. To do this, users can take country of origin or destination weights in an item area, obtained through the Census Bureau, and then calculate a geometric average of the exchange rates between the respective currencies and the U.S. dollar. Users can derive foreign currency indexes by multiplying the average exchange rate indexes by the corresponding U.S. dollar import or export price index. Another method is to examine pass-through rates by comparing the U.S. dollar’s movements against other currencies and the movements of the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes. For example, if the U.S. dollar appreciates against foreign currencies, the price of U.S. exports (in foreign currency) should rise, while the price of U.S. imports would be expected to fall.

Price elasticity

The U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes are also a valuable input to price and income elasticity studies. Import and export price elasticities are the percentage changes in the volume of trade resulting from percentage changes in trade prices relative to domestic prices. Income elasticities measure how levels of imports and exports are affected by changes in the real value of national income, measured by the growth in GDP. They are calculated by dividing the percentage change in either the volume of imports or exports by the percentage change in GDP over the same period.

Informing monetary and fiscal policy

Forecasting future prices and formulating monetary and fiscal policy are common uses of U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes data. Often, movement in import prices can be an indicator of future inflation because many inputs to domestic production are imported. Import and export prices affect the general level of inflation in the United States, considering import and export products compete, through pricing, with the domestic market. Whether attempting to gauge future inflation or analyze some other aspect of international trade, those who formulate monetary and fiscal policy also consider import and export prices when determining a course of action. The Federal Reserve Board of Governors looks at import and export prices as one of the economic indicators in the myriad of data used in their decision making.

There are many other ways U.S. Import and Export Price Index data are used in studies and decision making. Researchers wanting access to nonpublic import- and export-price-related microdata must submit an application following the criteria posted on the BLS visiting researchers’ webpage. Once approved, researchers may access the data for 1 to 2 years onsite at the BLS national office in Washington, D.C.

Revision policy

The U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes are revised for each of the 3 months following the initial publication of the data in order to reflect late-reported prices and correction by respondents. After the 3-month revision period, no further revisions take place. For example, data published with the January release will be subject to revision in the February, March, and April releases.

Data correction

If an error is discovered in any published data product for the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes, the publication is corrected and republished as soon as possible. In the event that any error cannot be corrected prior to the next data release, the erroneous data will be suppressed. Any corrections or suppressions are clearly noted on the publication as well as on the public web page. In addition, a record of the error is added to the BLS errata page.

Last Modified Date: June 22, 2020