As a systematically structured list of goods under customs control, the customs tariff of the Harmonized System forms a uniform nomenclature for commercial goods in cross-border trade. Anyone who deals with customs declarations has to deal with innovations and amendments to the nomenclature at regular intervals and may have to enter them into their own system for customs administration. In this article, we explain how the HS code number is composed, why it is of international importance, and what will change for customs brokers with the new edition of the Harmonized System in January 2022.
What is the composition of the customs tariff?
The customs tariff is an internationally valid nomenclature that categorizes goods under customs control into individual groups. The nomenclature follows a simple principle: starting with the most natural goods, which include all kinds of raw materials, and ending with synthetic products, all goods that are traded internationally are classified in the customs tariff and assigned a code number. The World Customs Organization (WCO) periodically publishes a new version of the Harmonized System, and the next amendment adds some new products.
The nomenclature of the Harmonized System
All goods that can appear as trade goods in cross-border traffic are listed in the nomenclature of the Harmonized System. Each product is assigned a specific number, the so-called code number. This code number is based on the six-digit Harmonized Code of the World Customs Organization (WCO). Depending on the importing country, the code number can be extended to up to eleven digits. The decisive factor here is databases such as TARIC (Tarif Intégré des Communautés Européennes, Customs Tariff Database of the European Union), which contains all measures relating to customs tariff classification as well as trade and agricultural policy EU legislation.
What is the structure of the HS code number?
The first six digits of the code number are defined by the Harmonized System, which is administered by the World Customs Organization (WCO). They form the basis of the code number. The Harmonized System defines the description and coding of the goods. The aim here is to create a uniform tariff basis for goods in international trade. The Combined Nomenclature (CN) of the European Community supplements the code of the Harmonized System with two additional digits, which make it possible to classify goods faster and better during import clearance. Customs agents in Germany, can easily obtain information on current customs tariffs via the EZT online application. The Electronic Customs Tariff (EZT) is based on TARIC data and contains all relevant information on the customs tariff (Harmonized System, Combined Nomenclature) as well as other customs regulations. Depending on the customs clearance system, the changes have to be entered manually, and the data adjusted step by step. In this case, it is a good idea to switch to a transport management system that is capable of automatically transferring changes and adjusting the data and customs rates accordingly.
The ninth and tenth digits of the code number are determined by TARIC. These two digits contain coded information on Community measures of the European Community, such as anti-dumping regulations, tariff suspensions or tariff quotas. The eleventh digit of the code number is country-specific and is used to encode VAT rates or national prohibitions and restrictions, especially in Germany.
The table shows which components of the code number are defined by the different tariff systems:
Item (HS, CN, EZT)
Subheading (HS, CN, EZT)
1001 10 00
Sub-item (CN, EZT)
1001 10 00 10
TARIC - Code
1001 10 00 10 1
Code number (EZT) with national subdivision
Additions to the Harmonized System
The latest edition of the Harmonized System Nomenclature will be published in January 2022 and will mainly deal with the adaptation to current trends in international trade. Special attention will be paid to new product categories and health and safety characteristics. Customs agents should inform themselves about the innovations in the HS at an early stage and supplement their lists of goods in the appropriate places. The CCI offers correlation tables for this purpose, which clarify the changes. The most important changes in the 2022 edition are summarized here.
Customs agents whose systems are not able to automatically adopt tariff updates can find out about the changes to the Harmonized System compared to the 2017 version in the so-called HS Tracker, which was made freely available by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in October 2021.
Determining customs tariffs simply and securely with Scope
Customers who already work with Scope do not need to worry about tariff changes and updating the nomenclature. Scope automatically adopts all changes and offers integrated interfaces to ATLAS, NCTS, AES and e-dec. Customs declarations including all relevant code numbers can be created via Scope and forwarded to the relevant authority. With the integrated customs module in Scope, forwarding companies of any size can exchange data with customs from any WMS/ERP. Using the full-text search or by entering the code number, goods can also be easily found under customs control for import and export and transferred to the transit procedure. Goods tariff numbers and descriptions are also automatically integrated into the declaration. If important documents for the declaration are still missing, a note appears in Scope. In addition, Scope offers a way to track the shipment and check the status of significant milestones with the complementary Connect web application.