Four Points for Finding “Harmony” in Exporting

July 23, 2014

Kenneth R. Mouradian is the Director of the International Trade Administration’s Orlando U.S. Export Assistance Center.

A person in a stock room examines boxes

The numbers on the box help trade authorities know what’s in the box.

Numbers, numbers, numbers…! There are so many numbers to keep track of in global trade; and three, in particular, are commonly confused: the Harmonized Schedule (HS) Code, Schedule B Number, and the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) Number. They’re related but not the same.

The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, or Harmonized System, is a means for customs agents to know “what’s in the box” without having to open it or understand what’s written in various foreign languages on the shipping documentation. It’s a system for identifying commodities in trade based on a string of six to eight digits. The Harmonized System is used by 179 countries covering about 98 percent of world trade for the assessment of customs duties (“border taxes” on imports) and the collection of statistical data.

Under the Harmonized System, products are classified into two categories, 21 sections, and 96 chapters by form and function. For example, 8471.30, is “Portable automatic data processing machines, weighing not more than 10 kg, consisting of at least a central processing unit, a keyboard and a display.”

English translation: laptop computer.

Combined with the product’s origin and value, customs agents use the HS Code to derive the tariff to be assessed.

The string of numbers that customs uses to assess taxes is six to eight digits long. To get even more specific in the collection of statistics, however, countries that use the Harmonized System are permitted to add digits to the HS Code to a total of 10 digits. In the United States, we refer to the full, 10- digit string as the Schedule B Number if it’s for export and the HTS Number if it’s for import.

So many numbers, so little time! Here are four important things to know about the Harmonized System, Schedule B, and HTS:

  • Nearly Identical. Schedule B and HTS Numbers are identical except for the last two digits. You’d use these numbers on forms submitted to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Bureau of the Census. You can self-classify your exports under Schedule B and obtain on-line training and support from the U.S. Census website.
  • Electronic Export Information (EEI). Exporters have the legal obligation under the Foreign Trade Regulations to record the export of any consignment whose value is equal to or in excess of $2,500 using the EEI. The Schedule B Number is used on the EEI to identify the commodities being exported.
  • Trade Data and Foreign Tariff Schedules. You can derive an HS Code by looking at the first six to eight digits of a Schedule B or HTS Number. Because of its universality, trade data is commonly reported by governments, the World Trade Organization and United Nations using the Harmonized System Code. Hence, the HS Code is an important tool in conducting market research. Similarly, the HS Code is the key to searching foreign governments’ tariff schedules.
  • Free Trade Agreements. You can view a list of Free Trade Agreements to which the U.S. is a Contracting Party, as well as detailed information on the benefits of each and how to take advantage of them.

Need help? Contact your local U.S. Export Assistance Center.