Economic Statistics for the 2030 Agenda: Can Asia-Pacific deliver?

25 Apr 2019

The state of implementation of the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is monitored at the global level by using the Agenda’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, 169 targets and the 232 internationally-agreed indicators.

Monitoring the multidimensional and interrelated indicators is data-intensive and countries need high-quality and timely statistics to navigate appropriate policies for attaining the 2030 Agenda.

What does economic statistics have to do with the 2030 Agenda?

Around one-fifth of the 232 global indicators depend on economic statistics, such as economic growth, poverty, employment, government revenue and budget, foreign direct investment, remittances and more. Economic statistics are crucial instruments for governments, businesses and the general public to gauge the health of the economy and act accordingly. For instance, higher economic growth might reflect higher business prospects for businesses as well as better job opportunities for job seekers.

SDG targets that depend on economic statistics for prudent monitoring include sustaining per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances, achieving higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men by 2030.

Achieving the Agenda’s ambition of better lives for all warrants for quality economic statistics. So how are countries in Asia and the Pacific doing?

The good news: More economic statistics are produced

A new analysis by ESCAP offers insights on the status of economic statistics in 50 Asia-Pacific countries.

The analysis demonstrates improvements in the number of key economic statistics produced. On average, 50 countries in the Asia-Pacific produced 1.2 additional key economic statistics in 2017 compared with 2013. The additions include hours worked, commodity price index, external trade services and productivity.

The progress reflects improvements to economic statistics systems. Additional or improved outputs from these systems happen when processes and inputs – such as coordination among involved institutions, legal frameworks, statistical infrastructure and regular data collections — improve. Indeed, the analysis confirms progress in some of these areas. It also shows progress in economic statistics training opportunities available for staff.

The not-so-good news: Accuracy of economic statistics

The analysis also points to areas in need of improvement. Important regular data collections such as economic censuses or surveys, and critical pieces of statistical infrastructure such as statistical business registers are absent, weak or infrequent in many countries. Less than half the countries covered in the analysis have proper survey frames, hampering the ability to quality assure the statistical products. Although the analysis did not include an in-depth review of the quality of the economic statistics themselves, the revealed weaknesses indicate inferior accuracy of several statistics.

The revelation: Size does matter!

A key finding of the analysis is that among all parameters tested, population size is the primary determinant of the number of key economic statistics produced by a country. This brings to the fore the scale of statistics production and the need to maintain a rather sophisticated statistical system, even in small countries, if all key economic statistics are to be produced regularly. And small countries tend to have small statistical offices making this difficult.

The analysis hints to small countries making deliberate choices to produce a smaller number of key economic statistics, considering the higher marginal costs of producing them. The most commonly unavailable economic statistics in small countries includes commodity price index, producer price index, wage index, and short-term indicators such as consumer demand.

The not so quick but important fixes …

The analysis found gaps in statistical infrastructure and institutional aspects of national statistical systems. These gaps represent key obstacles to long term improvement of economic statistics for informed policy-making. Addressing the gaps warrant long-term investment in statistical infrastructure and better institutional practices. Nevertheless, the investment will pay off in the form of sustained capacity development of national statistical systems and high-quality statistics produced therefrom will ultimately help formulate sounder policies nationally to attain the 2030 Agenda.

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Ms Rikke Munk Hansen for her valuable inputs and comments