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Article

First steps taken to update national accounts manual

Author(s):
International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
March 2004
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On February 16-20, the IMF’s Statistics Department hosted the first in a series of meetings to discuss updates to the System of National Accounts 1993. The manual sets standards for the measurement of GDP and serves as a reference guide for most economic and financial statistics. Impetus to update it stems from changes in the economic environment over the past decade, advancements in methodological research, and efforts to further harmonize various macroeconomic statistics.

Over the course of the weeklong meeting, experts from 16 countries and representatives from the IMF, Eurostat, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations, and the World Bank conferred on a large number of proposed changes. Most of these changes originate from three sources:

  • the so-called Canberra II group, which is working on recommendations for the treatment of issues related to capital and the new economy;

  • the current revision of the Balance of Payments Manual, which is bringing a number of issues to the fore—especially those related to innovations in financial instruments; and

  • the recently created international task force on public sector accounting, in which the IMF has the lead.

Adoption of these proposed changes is expected to directly benefit IMF analysis and policy advice. In an address to participants, IMF Deputy Managing Director Agustin Carstens noted the importance of these issues to the IMF and underscored how vital good-quality national accounts—in particular sound data on economic growth—are for assessing the effects of policies. He suggested that countries may need more thorough updates of their national accounts than the usual revisions achieve. He likened revisions to the type of maintenance that keeps an old plane in the air but does not bring it up to modern standards. And antiquated systems of national accounts, he added, can miss important developments, such as the new economy.

Indeed, issues related to the new economy were well represented on the agenda. The experts took up specific proposals and reached consensus on how to improve the recording of transactions related to research and development and discussed the recording of e-commerce.

Participants also agreed on how to deal with employee stock options. Significant progress was made on several other proposals, notably improvements in recording of developments in the insurance industry. Under current guidelines, the recorded output value of insurance services drops when major disasters occur—something that many participants viewed as unfortunate because it is in these circumstances that the insured benefit from the protection that insurance provides.

The full work program of the update of the System of National Accounts 1993 runs through 2007 and will entail numerous consultations with regional and professional organizations. Publication of an updated manual is scheduled for 2008. More information about the manual and the update can be found at http://unstats.un.org/unsd/nationalaccount/Programs.htm.

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