HS codes and commodity codes for foreign trade

Customs authorities use HS codes and commodity codes to classify products. This is how they know which products are entering and leaving a country. Each product has a unique number combination that you use for import and export shipments The correct commodity code is important. Because it determines how much import duty you pay. And whether you need special permits or certificates.

HS codes, commodity codes, CN codes, TARIC codes, and Intrastat codes. Importers and exporters sometimes confuse these codes. In this article, you will find out what the differences are and why you need them. What the consequences are if you use the wrong codes. And how to make sure your product's commodity code is correct.

HS codes

HS stands for Harmonised System. The World Customs Organization (WCO) developed HS codes to classify products. HS codes are also called GS codes in the Netherlands. GS stands for Geharmoniseerd Systeem. An HS code has 6 digits. More than 200 countries use the same HS codes for products. You can find the list of HS codes on the WCO website.

CN codes: export commodity codes

Any country can extend a 6-digit HS code with more numbers. The EU, for example, has 8-digit commodity codes for products you export to countries outside the EU. This is the HS code of the product, with 2 extra digits added.

This 8-digit commodity code is called a CN code in the EU. CN means Combined Nomenclature. You need a CN code for your export declaration to customs. With the CN code of your product, you also check whether there are any export restrictions. For example, whether you need an export licence, health certificate, or other document. You can find the CN codes on the tariff database of the Customs Administration of the Netherlands.

TARIC codes: commodity codes for import

Are you importing a product from a country outside the EU? Then you usually need a 10-digit commodity code for your import declaration to Customs. In the EU, this code is called a TARIC code. The TARIC code tells customs how much import duty and VAT you need to pay. Sometimes a TARIC code has even more digits. For example, for products subject to an anti-dumping duty. You then pay an extra amount on top of the import duty. A TARIC code also provides information about import restrictions and regulations. For example, whether an import licence, health certificate, or other document is required for your product. You can find the TARIC codes on the Customs tariff database . 

The codes in practice 

Below is an example of the various codes for leather handbags.

HS-code   4202 21
GN-codeExports from EU  4202 21 00
TARIC code handmadeImports into EU  4202 21 00 10
TARIC code machine-madeImports into EU  4202 21 00 90
Intrastat-codeintra-EU trade  4202 21 00

Intrastat codes for intra-EU trade

The EU collects data and produces statistics on trade in goods between member states. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) requests information from Dutch importers and exporters who trade with other EU countries via surveys (in Dutch). CBS selects the companies to survey from their VAT returns. The selected importers and exporters must report the information requested to CBS. This is called an Intrastat declaration.

In this declaration, you use the 8-digit GN codes for the products you imported from and exported to other EU countries. When trading within the EU, the GN codes are called Intrastat codes. You can find an overview of Intrastat codes on the CBS website, under Commodity Codes.

Looking up HS codes and commodity codes

HS codes and commodity codes such as CN and TARIC codes can be looked up online in the Customs tariff database. Looking up the correct code for your product is sometimes difficult. Read here how to find the correct codes for products using an example.

Consequences of using the wrong code

You may pay the wrong rate of import duty if you classify your product with the wrong commodity code. Or you may unintentionally fail to comply with  import or export regulations. Did you pay too little import duty because of an incorrect commodity code? Then customs may levy post-clearance import duties for up to 3 years after import. If you paid too much import duty, you can apply for a refund (in Dutch). This can be done up to a maximum of 3 years after importation.

Ensure the correct code

Do you want help finding the correct code for your products? Customs advisers and forwarders can advise you on commodity codes based on a description of your product. This advice is not binding. Only the Dutch Customs Administration can determine whether the commodity code for a product is correct.

Customs forwarders will also prepare customs declarations such as the import or export declaration for you. You can find them through trade associations such as FENEX and evofenedex (in Dutch). 

Always check the code yourself

Suppliers from outside the EU usually know the HS codes of their products. Check whether these HS codes are correct. Only use the HS codes of your suppliers as an indication when looking for the correct TARIC codes.

Want to be certain you have the correct commodity code? Then request Binding Tariff Information (BTI, in Dutch)  from Dutch Customs. This is a written and binding ruling. A BTI is valid throughout the EU for 3 years from the date of issue.

Finding product requirements with commodity codes

With the correct commodity code for your product, you know the rate of import duty and which special documents are required. You can also use the commodity code to find the product requirements for your product. Use the European Commission's Access2Markets for this purpose. These 2 videos explain how to look up the product requirements in Access2Markets for export and import.