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Harmonized System - General information

The Nomenclature governed by the Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, commonly known as "HS Nomenclature", is an international multipurpose nomenclature which was elaborated under the auspices of the World Customs Organization (WCO). At present there are 138 Contracting Parties to this Convention, however, it is applied by more than 200 administrations worldwide, mostly to set up their national customs tariff and for the collection of economic statistical data. The European Union and its member states together represent a block of 28 Contracting Parties to the aforementioned Convention.

The HS Nomenclature comprises about 5,000 commodity groups which are identified by a 6-digit code and arranged according to a legal and logical structure based on fixed rules. The Combined Nomenclature of the European Union (EU) integrates the HS Nomenclature and comprises additional 8-digit subdivisions and legal notes specifically created to address the needs of the Community.

The official interpretation of the HS which provides for its uniform interpretation worldwide is ensured by the HS Committee which comprises representatives from the Contracting Parties to the HS Convention. Other administrations, international organisations, international commerce and industry are represented as observers.

The HS Convention provides for two types of decisions taken by the HS Committee:

  1. Decisions which amend the Convention including its nomenclature (procedure under Article 16) and
  2. decisions which "manage or interpret" the Convention and which normally take the form of classification decisions, Explanatory Notes or Classification opinions (procedure under Article 8). For the latest amendments to the HS Explanatory Notes and Classification Opinions, see the website of the WCO.

In both cases, the EU and its member states, together, dispose of a single vote only. The Contracting Parties may lodge a "reservation" against both types of decisions. A "reservation" against an amendment of the Convention (Article 16 procedure) annuls the decision that was taken. On the other hand, the legal effect of a "reservation" in the framework of an Article 8 procedure of the Convention is limited to a suspension of the decision which has to be re-examined at a later meeting of the Committee. In practice, this simply means that the definitive decision is delayed by 6 to 12 months.

Generally, the amendments to the HS Convention become binding for all Contracting Parties two years after they are notified by the Secretary General of the WCO. However, the decisions concerning the management and interpretation of the Convention are generally deemed to have been accepted by all Contracting Parties two months after the decision by the HS Committee.

For further information, you may consult the website of the WCO.