About the Tariff

The Harmonized System — A Brief History

The Early Years

As early as a century ago, the lack of uniformity between the many different classification systems that had grown up throughout the world had become a major concern. Since that time, several attempts have been made to create an international system of classification.

In 1950, the Customs Cooperation Council was formed in Brussels. Shortly thereafter, the classification system it developed, known as the Customs Cooperation Council Nomenclature, came into use. By 1970, it became apparent that this system would have to be revised both in order to make it usable by more countries and to ensure compatibility with modern, computerized methods of doing business. Thus the development of the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System began.

On January 1, 1988 most members of the WTO adopted the new Harmonized System. In the United States, the HTSUS (Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States) was enacted by subtitle B of title I of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, and became effective on January 1, 1989 – replacing the TSUS (Tariff Schedules of the United States).

There are now more than 200 countries using the international Harmonized Tariff. So are they all the same? Yes, and No. Yes to the 6 digit level. No beyond that level. Before being adopted into law by a country, the WTO Harmonized System is augmented to accommodate particular national goals. For example, most add additional levels to provide a finer breakout of products. Duty rates and units of measurement are added — generally at the 8th digit level, but often enough at the 10th digit level.

Recent Changes

The Harmonized System has undergone several changes, called revisions. The following is the count of affected six-digit levels (sub-headings), by revision:

Revision Year Number of unchanged codes Number of new codes Number of reused codes Number of deleted codes
1988 0 5020 0 0
1996 4421 348 344 255
2002 4713 338 173 227
2007 4451 262 341 432
2012 4748 329 128 176

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