For client countries of the World Bank, there is no shortage of interest in—or desire for—information on trade flows and market access. Improving trade performance is a critical component of many client countries’ development strategies, and trade data hold the key to understanding how countries are faring in the quest to eliminate trade barriers, increase competitiveness, and turn improved market access into actual trade flows.
But the trade data arena is large and complex, full of topical jargon, different nomenclatures and coding systems, availability constraints, and potentially complicated indicators. For newcomers, trade data navigation can be particularly challenging, which belies the immense value and richness in the wealth of information that has become available and accessible over the past few years.
Enter the World Integrated Trade Solution , or WITS.
One of the World Bank’s ever-improving software tools, WITS empowers users with the ability to analyze trade from the general to the most specific of issues. It’s the World Bank’s primary place to access historical international data on trade flows and market access, obtain information on non-tariff measures, calculate and compare the competitiveness of countries, and perform tariff cut simulations.
WITS is a tool that many World Bank trade economists cannot do without. It’s a one-stop shop for answering many of the most routine trade-related questions that arise from day-to-day trade work: Who are the top exporters of a particular product? With whom does my country trade the most? What product constitutes the greatest share of total exports?
WITS provides the answers and, thanks to a newly redesigned interface, allows the user to do so more easily than ever.
Most importantly, the benefits of WITS are not restricted to employees of the World Bank. It can be utilized by government officials monitoring their countries’ trade growth, by students analyzing the impacts of trade shocks, by practitioners weighing the effects of trade regulations and agreements, and, of course, by readers of this blog.
So, how might WITS be used in practice?
Requests regularly come in from all corners of the World Bank Group, as well as the media and other stakeholders, to provide tailored trade information. WITS is often the perfect starting point. Whether determining how much cement Middle Eastern and North African countries have traded in the last four years or calculating the value, say, of non-mineral exports for all countries over the last ten years, WITS is one of the first tools to use.
A perfect example of the versatility that makes WITS effective is the ability to create personalized product and country groups as a registered user (registration is free). For a recent evaluation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union  undertaken by the World Bank, the question arose as to whether the customs union had been more beneficial to both parties than a free trade agreement would have been.
Tackling this question required the ability to evaluate trade trends and simulate tariff changes on products covered by the customs union as distinct from products not covered by the customs union, a task accomplished with WITS using the product group utility.
Similarly, an upcoming World Bank publication on trade policy in fragile countries requires data on food import dependence. A custom-made “fragile countries” grouping was created and saved within WITS, as was a grouping of “non-fragile developing countries”, for which net food import data could be extracted and compared to enrich the analysis.
For true trade aficionados, WITS’ Global Tariff Cuts and Trade Simulator may provide the meatiest analytical function.
During the recent Diagnostic Trade Integration Study  for Haiti, for example, the government proposed adjusting tariffs in its budget that would affect over 1,000 product lines. WITS allowed for a measured simulation of how the changes might impact imports, welfare, and government revenues– a truly systematic and nonpartisan means through which to evaluate a real policy agenda.
New to WITS for 2014 is a wholly redesigned homepage. Without having to register or log-in, the welcome interface provides ready-made data. If you’re writing your own blog on the world’s top exporters or trade as a percentage of GDP or even a country’s Herfindahl index of market concentration, there is no need to undertake the cumbersome calculations yourself. These indicators are readily-available in a variety of interactive tables and graphs that can be embedded across the web or cut-and-pasted for your purposes.
WITS is an evolving platform, with a user experience that has improved dramatically over the last several years. Its continued fine-tuning relies heavily on feedback from users, whose thirst for trade information drives the development of the most useful trade data tool possible. If you’re looking for trade-related information, it is no doubt the best place to start.