The Harmonised Commodity description and Coding System, usually abbreviated to the harmonised system (HS), is an international nomenclature for the classification of products. It is maintained by the World Customs Organisation. It was originally introduced in 1988 though has undergone several changes (with a further change due to take effect from 1 January 2022). Over 200 countries have adopted this classification system which allows them to classify traded goods on a standardised and common basis for the purpose of customs clearance. More than 98 per cent of goods traded internationally are classified by HS codes.
At the international level, the HS uses a six-digit code and covers around 5,224 article or product descriptions that appear as headings and subheadings, arranged in 21 sections and 99 chapters. As far as possible, sections and chapters are arranged in the order of a product’s degree of manufacture or its technological complexity. So natural commodities, such as live animals and vegetables, are described in the early sections, whereas products such as machinery are described in later sections. Chapters are also normally organised in order of complexity or degree of manufacture. Lastly, headings follow a similar order.
The six digits of the HS code can be broken down into three parts. The first two digits (HS-2) identify the chapter, for example, 08 = Fruit and nuts, edible; peel of citrus fruit or melons. The next two digits (HS-4) identify heading within that chapter, for example 08.04 = Dates, figs, pineapples, avocados, guavas, mangoes and mangosteens; fresh or dried. The last two digits (HS-6), the sub-heading, are even more specific, for example, 08.04.40 Fruit, edible; avocados, fresh or dried. Up to the HS-6 digit level, all countries classify products in the same way, though there are exceptions where some countries still apply old versions of the HS. Some countries, such as Sri Lanka, have added extra digits to give even finer classification.