Goods that are exported or imported internationally usually travel with an identification code called a harmonized tariff number. This number is “harmonized” in that it is recognized by countries throughout the world that came to agreement on how to classify types of products in a shipment. Assigning a number to goods enables more efficient identification for legal and financial regulations related to the goods per country of origin or of destination. This number can be located through the Harmonized System, or HS, which provides the naming and numbering conventions for the array of items sent throughout the world.
National governmental organizations for the more than 200 countries that use the Harmonized System may publish guidelines for numbering based on the World Customs Organization (WCO) master list. Typically, a harmonized tariff number can be located by accessing the WCO system or by searching the US International Trade Commission (USITC) Harmonized Tariff Schedule. Individuals and corporations can locate needed import and export classifications through the WCO or USITC websites, or they can utilize software applications or tariff services that assign numbers as needed for shipping.
There are 21 sections in the Harmonized System which include categories such as food, works of art, vegetable products, and live animals. Within these sections are subsections, with a harmonized tariff number identifying products by specific qualities. Items that fall within the base metals section, for example, may be further categorized by steel, tin, copper, or other properties. Textiles receive different numbers depending on whether they are silk, cotton, wool or other fibers, and wood products can be identified as pulp, paper, or printed product.
Products being supplied from one country to another generally require identification for customs and tax, or duty, purposes. Shipping and export declaration documentation often is required for the transport and distribution of goods, and a harmonized tariff number helps to expedite the process by providing classification without having to review the shipment contents themselves. A commercial invoice may include these classification numbers as well.
Although the harmonized tariff number does create a system for worldwide classification, it does not impact individual country regulations and laws regarding the import and export of goods. Within each of the sub-sections of the Harmonized System, detailed information outlines what is and is not included within the category. Each exporter may need to become familiar with the most detailed aspects of the numbering system as well as with the import rules of the destination country. Assigning the appropriate harmonized tariff number is one step in the often complex international shipping process.