Survey Methodology

The ITC business survey is based on a global methodology adjusted to country-specific requirements. The core part of NTM survey is identical in all surveyed countries, enabling cross-country analyses and comparison. The country-specific part allows flexibility in addressing the requirements and needs of each participating country.

Scope and coverage

The objective of the NTM Survey requires a representative sample allowing for the extrapolation of the survey result to the country level. To achieve this objective, the NTM Survey covers at least 90% of the total export value of each participating country (excluding minerals and arms). The economy is divided into 13 sectors, and all sectors with more than a 2% share in total exports are included in the survey.

Companies trading arms and minerals are excluded. The export of minerals is generally not subject to trade barriers due to a high demand and the specificities of trade undertaken by large multinational companies. The export of arms is outside of the scope of ITC activities.

The NTM Surveys cover companies exporting and importing goods. Companies trading services are excluded, as a survey on NTMs in services would require a different approach and methodology. The NTM Survey includes companies specialized in the export-import process and services, such as agents, brokers, and forwarding companies (referred to collectively as 'trading agents'). These companies can be viewed as service companies because they provide trade logistics services. The answers provided by trading agents are in most cases analysed separately from the answers of the companies that export their own products.

The NTM Surveys cover legally registered companies of all sizes and types of ownership. Depending on country size and geography, one to four geographic regions with high concentrations of economic activities (high number of firms) are included in the sample.

Two-step approach to interviewing

The representatives of the surveyed companies, generally export/import specialists or senior-level managers, are asked to report trade-related problems experienced by their companies in the preceding year that represent a serious impediment for their operations. To identify companies that experience burdensome NTMs, the survey process consists of telephone interviews with all companies in the sample (step 1) and face-to-face interviews undertaken with the companies that reported difficulties with NTMs during the telephone interviews (step 2).

Step 1: Telephone interviews

The first step includes short telephone interviews. Interviewers asked respondents to identify the main sector of activity of their companies and the direction of trade (export or import). The respondents are then asked whether their companies have experienced burdensome NTMs. Companies that report difficulties with NTMs are invited to participate in an in-depth face-to-face interview.

Step 2: Face-to-face interviews

The second-step interviews are required to obtain all the details of burdensome NTMs and other obstacles at the product and partner country level. These interviews are conducted face-to-face due to the complexity of the issues related to NTMs. Face-to-face interactions with experienced interviewers helps to ensure that respondents correctly understand the purpose and the coverage of the survey, and accurately classify their responses in accordance with predefined categories.

This interview records the following for each company:

  • Company characteristics
  • All trade products and their partner countries,
  • Products (6-digit level of the Harmonized System) affected by burdensome regulations and countries (home, partner or transit country) applying these regulations
  • Details of the burdensome regulations faced for each product and partner country.

Each burdensome measure (regulation) is classified according to the NTM classification, an international taxonomy of NTMs. The NTM classification is the core of the survey, making it possible to apply a uniform and systematic approach to recording and analysing burdensome NTMs in countries with idiosyncratic trade policies and approaches to NTMs.

The face-to-face questionnaire captures the type of burdensome NTMs and the nature of the problem (so-called procedural obstacles [POs] explaining why the measures represent an impediment), the place where each obstacle takes place, and the agencies involved, if any. The companies can also report generic problems unrelated to any regulation, but affecting their export or import, such as corruption and lack of or inadequate export infrastructure. These issues are referred to as problems related to business environment.

Sampling technique

The selection of companies for the phone screen interviews of the NTM Survey is based on the stratified random sampling. In a stratified random sample, all population units are first clustered into homogeneous groups ('strata'), according to some predefined characteristics, chosen to be related to the major variables being studied. In the case of the NTM Surveys, companies are stratified by sector, as the type and incidence of NTMs are often product-specific.Then simple random samples are selected within each sector.

The NTM Surveys aim to be representative at the country level. A sufficiently large number of enterprises should be interviewed within each export sector to ensure that the share of enterprises experiencing burdensome NTMs is estimated correctly and can be extrapolated to the entire sector. To achieve this objective, a sample size for the telephone interviews with exporting companies is determined independently for each export sector.

For importing companies, the sample size is defined at the country level. The sample size for importing companies can be smaller than the sample size for exporters, mainly for two reasons. First, the interviewed exporting companies are often import intermediaries and provide reports on their experiences with NTMs as both exporters and importers. Second, problems experienced by importing companies are generally linked to domestic regulations required by their home country. Even with a small sample size for importing companies, the effort is made to obtain a representative sample by import sectors and the size of the companies.

Exporting companies have difficulties with both domestic regulations and regulations applied by partner countries that import their products. Although the sample size is not stratified by company export destinations, a large sample size permits a good selection of reports related to various export markets (regulations applied by partner countries). By design, large trading partners are mentioned more often during the survey because it is more likely that the randomly selected company would be exporting to one of the major importing countries.

The sample size for face-to-face interviews depends on the results of the telephone interviews.

Open-ended discussions

During the surveys of companies and preparation of the report, open-ended discussions are held with national experts and stakeholders, for example trade support institutions and sector/export associations. These discussions provide further insights, quality check and validation of the survey results. The participants review the main findings of the NTM Survey and help to explain the reasons for the prevalence of the issues and propose possible solutions.


The NTM Survey is confidential. Confidentiality of the data is paramount to ensure the greatest degree of participation, integrity and confidence in the quality of the data. The paper-based and electronically captured data is transmitted to ITC at the end of the survey.

Survey data analysis

The analysis of the survey data consists of constructing frequency and coverage statistics along several dimensions, including product and sector, NTMs and their main NTM categories (e.g. technical measures, quantity control measures), and various characteristics of the surveyed companies (e.g. size and degree of foreign ownership).

The frequency and coverage statistics are based on 'cases'. A case is the most disaggregated data unit of the survey. By construction, each company participating in a face-to-face interview reports at least one case of burdensome NTMs, and, if relevant, related POs and problems with the business environment.

Each case of each company consists of one NTM (a government-mandated regulation, for example sanitary and phytosanitary certificate), one product affected by this NTM, and partner country applying the reported NTM. For example, if there are three products affected by the same NTM applied by the same partner country and reported by one company, the results would include three cases. If two different companies report the same problem, it would be counted as two cases.

The scenario where several partner countries apply the same type of measure is recorded as several cases. The details of each case (e.g. the name of the government regulations and its strictness) can vary as regulations mandated by different countries are likely to differ. However, if the home country of the interviewed companies applies an NTM to a product exported by a company to several countries, the scenario will be recorded as a single NTM case. When an interviewed company both exports and imports, and reports cases related to both activities, it is included in the analysis twice – once for the analysis of exports and once for the analysis of imports.

Cases of POs and problems with the business environment are counted in the same way as NTM cases. The statistics are provided separately from NTMs, even though in certain instances they are closely related. For example, delays can be caused by the pre-shipment inspection requirements. As many of the POs and problems with the business environment are not product specific, the statistics are constructed along two dimensions: type of obstacles and country where they occur, as well as agencies involved.

Following up the ITC Non-Tariff Measure Survey

The findings of each ITC NTM Survey are presented and discussed at a stakeholder workshop. The workshop brings together government officials, experts, companies, donors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academics. It fosters a dialogue on NTM issues and helps identify possible solutions to the problems experienced by exporting and importing companies.

The NTM Survey results serve as a diagnostic tool for identifying and solving predominant problems. This can be realized at the national or international level. The survey findings can also serve as a basis for designing projects to address the problems identified and for supporting fundraising activities.


The utmost effort is made to ensure the representativeness and the high quality of the survey results, yet several caveats must be kept in mind.

First, the NTM Surveys generate perception data, as the respondents are asked to report burdensome regulations representing a serious impediment to their exports or imports. The respondents may have different scales for judging what constitutes an impediment. The differences may further intensify when the results of the surveys are compared across countries, stemming from cultural, political, social, economic and linguistic differences. Some inconsistency may be possible among interviewers (e.g. related to matching reported measures against the codes of the NTM classification) due to the complex and idiosyncratic nature of NTMs.

Second, in many countries a systematic business register covering all sectors is not available or incomplete. As a result, it may be difficult to ensure random sampling within each sector, and a sufficient rate of participation in smaller sectors. Whenever this is the case, the survey limitations are explicitly provided in the corresponding report.

Finally, certain NTM issues are not likely to be known by the exporting and importing companies. For example, exporters may not know the demand-side constraints behind the borders, e.g. 'buy domestic' campaigns. The scope of the survey is limited to legally operating companies and does not include unrecorded trade, e.g. shuttle traders.