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How Does the Classification of Commodities Work

written by: Steve McFarlane•edited by: Jason C. Chavis•updated: 8/25/2010

Here is how to make sense of the harmonized commodities classification shipping codes for imports and exports.

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    The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System is a standardized international system for classifying goods that are shipped internationally. The international harmonized commodities classification coding system is a 6-digit numerical system that is administrated by the World Customs Organization on behalf of its member countries.

    Every US business or individual must use a Harmonized Commodity Code to import and export products. The first 6-digits of the system is the same for all countries, but there are 4-digits that are appended to the end of the code in the U.S. This is known as the Schedule B code for exports and the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) for imports. The U.S. Census Bureau administrates the export codes, while The U.S. Internal Trade Commission administrates import codes.

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    How to Find a Schedule B Number

    You can find the export codes at the U.S. Census Bureau Website. You only need to search the database of HS codes to find the correctExport codes - Schedule b codes 2010 - pic  one. The designation seems arbitrary at first, but the codes do follow a structured system. For example, the first two digits are used to classify all products into 15 categories.

    The categories are Animal & Animal Products (01-05), Vegetable Products (06-15), Foodstuffs (16-24), Mineral Products (25-27), Chemical & Allied Industries (28-38), Plastics/Rubbers (39-40), Raw Hides/Skins/Leathers (41-43), Wood & Wood Products (44-49), Textiles (50-63), Footwear/Headgear (64-67), Stone/Glass (68-71), Metals (72-83), Machinery/Electrical (84-85), Transportation (86-89), and Miscellaneous (90-97).

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    Examples of Commodities Classification Codes

    If you want to export a horse and a mule you would need two separate codes. The correct codes would be:Harmonized code list – Commodity Code -pic 

    • 0101901000 Horses
    • 0101905000 Asses, mules, and hinnies

    Notice that in both instances the code start with 010190 but the 4-digit code for horses ends with (1000), while the one for mules ends with 5000. On the other hand, 010190 is the international code, while the 5000 (mules) and 1000 (horses) is the designation that was assigned by the Census Bureau. Again, you will need to browse the U.S. Census Bureau’s Website for the full list of export codes.

    In some cases the codes can be longer than the regular ten digits. This can happen if the product has a duty free or preferential trading status based on agreements that the United States has with one of its trading partners. For example, if the product falls under the North American Free Trade Agreement it will have CA or MX appended to the 10-digit code.

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    Summary

    The coding system makes it easy for the US and member countries of the World Customs Organization to track goods that enter and leave its borders. In the United States the code is further enhanced with a 4-digit addition that is used to more narrowly classify import and export goods.

    Import and Export codes - Commodities Classification - pic 

    Image Credits:

    "Import and Export codes - Commodities Classification - pic" mikebaird

    "Export codes - Schedule b codes 2010 - pic" jdnx

    "Harmonized code list – Commodity Code - pic" author

    References:

    World Customs Organization: About Us

    U.S. Census Bureau: Foreign Trade Division