A key feature of the reform of the international financial architecture since the mid-1990s has been the development of international standards and codes.2 The data standards initiative, on which the IMF took the lead, broke new ground. The dissemination standards put in place as the centerpiece of this initiative continue to be among the most widely known of the international standards and codes.
Recognition of the importance of data transparency—including for promoting the efficient operation of financial markets and policy accountability on the part of governments and central banks—is a remarkably recent phenomenon in the history of economic thought. The timely availability of data on international reserves and the foreign exchange operations of central banks is a case in point. As recently as 10 years ago, with relatively few exceptions, only very aggregated information typically was available, and then often only with a substantial lag. Indeed, in a number of countries, these data were treated as state secrets. Moreover, significant regional differences existed—and still do, to an important degree—in terms of views about the value of enhancing transparency.
Although the name of the General Data Dissemination System (GDDS) infers that its central focus is dissemination, in its initial stages the GDDS emphasized the development of national systems in an explicit medium-term framework. Attention to data dissemination came only at a later stage. Indeed, participating countries are not required to make any formal commitments regarding data dissemination. The main premise underlying the GDDS is to give high priority to improvements in data quality, which may need to precede improvement in dissemination practice.