Blog: How Much Do You Know About H.S. Tariff Codes?

An Expert's View about Logistics in Canada

Last updated: 21 Nov 2012

The Harmonized System Code (HS Code)

Every commodity that clears through Customs must have an accurate and correct HS code applied to it. This code identifies the item to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), as well as indicating the duty rate payable.

The Canada Customs Invoices or Commercial Invoices prepared must provide enough detail to identify the goods and correctly establish the HS Tariff Classification code.

Tariff classification can be very complex and speaks to the essential character of the article being imported:

    What article is being imported?
    What is the article made of?
    What is the item used for?

All imported items must be classified in the Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) using the General Rules of Interpretation and other aids.

The HS code is a 10 digit code. The first six (6) digits of the HS code are universal (meaning that all countries use the same first 6 digits to classify a commodity); the remaining four (4) digits that make up the HS Code are unique from country to country and used for statistics.

Classifying commodities correctly is key with regards to the importer paying the correct amount of duty and avoiding Administrative Monetary Penalty System (AMPS) penalties, or worse, seizure of your goods.

The Customs Tariff book is a comprehensive list of all HS codes laid out in 99 chapters; the progression being from raw products to the most highly processed. These 99 chapters are also broken into 21 sections for ease of reference. The tariff book contains over 10,000 detailed tariff options. In order to select the correct tariff code, you or your customs broker are required to understand the rules contained in the tariff book, and have detailed knowledge of the item(s) being imported.
Should you get an advanced tariff classification ruling from CBSA?

Not all goods require an advanced ruling from Customs in order to be properly classified, however the process remains complex and all imported items must be classified in the Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) using the General Rules of Interpretation and other aids. Getting an advance ruling ensures that the tariff classification number used is deemed correct by the CBSA. The advance ruling provides certainty to the importer, or his or her representative, as to how goods are to be classified and thereby facilitates the documentation and other governmental department requirements for clearing goods at the border.
Commodities entering Canada are classified based on:

    Six (6) Universal General Interpretive Rules (GIR) and
    Three (3) Canadian Rules

Universal General Interpretive Rules (GIR):

1. The titles of Sections, Chapters and Sub-Chapters are provided for ease of reference only; for legal purposes, classification shall be determined according to the terms of the headings and any relative Section or Chapter Notes and, provided such headings or Notes do not otherwise require, according to the following provisions.

2. (a) Any reference in a heading to an article shall be taken to include a reference to that article incomplete or unfinished, provided that, as presented, the incomplete or unfinished article has the essential character of the complete or finished article. It shall also be taken to include a reference to that article complete or finished (or falling to be classified as complete or finished by virtue of this Rule), presented unassembled or disassembled.

(b) Any reference in a heading to a material or substance shall be taken to include a reference to mixtures or combinations of that material or substance with other materials or substances. Any reference to goods of a given material or substance shall be taken to include a reference to goods consisting wholly or partly of such material or substance. The classification of goods consisting of more than one material or substance shall be according to the principles of Rule 3.

3. When by application of Rule 2 (b) or for any other reason, goods are, prima facie, classifiable under two or more headings, classification shall be effected as follows:

(a) The heading which provides the most specific description shall be preferred to headings providing a more general description. However, when two or more headings each refer to part only of the materials or substances contained in mixed or composite goods or to part only of the items in a set put up for retail sale, those headings are to be regarded as equally specific in relation to those goods, even if one of them gives a more complete or precise description of the goods.

(b) Mixtures, composite goods consisting of different materials or made up of different components, and goods put up in sets for retail sale, which cannot be classified by reference to Rule 3 (a), shall be classified as if they consisted of the material or component which gives them their essential character, insofar as this criterion is applicable.

(c) When goods cannot be classified by reference to Rule 3 (a) or 3 (b), they shall be classified under the heading which occurs last in numerical order among those which equally merit consideration.

4. Goods which cannot be classified in accordance with the above Rules shall be classified under the heading appropriate to the goods to which they are most akin.

5. In addition to the foregoing provisions, the following Rules shall apply in respect of the goods referred to therein:

(a) Camera cases, musical instrument cases, gun cases, drawing instrument cases, necklace cases and similar containers, specially shaped or fitted to contain a specific article or set of articles, suitable for long-term use and presented with the articles for which they are intended, shall be classified with such articles when of a kind normally sold therewith. This Rule does not, however, apply to containers which give the whole its essential character.

(b) Subject to the provisions of Rule 5 (a) above, packing materials and packing containers presented with the goods therein shall be classified with the goods if they are of a kind normally used for packing such goods. However, this provision is not binding when such packing materials or packing containers are clearly suitable for repetitive use.

6. For legal purposes, the classification of goods in the subheadings of a heading shall be determined according to the terms of those subheadings and any related Subheading Notes and, mutatis mutandis, to the above Rules, on the understanding that only subheadings at the same level are comparable. For the purpose of this Rule the relative Section and Chapter Notes also apply, unless the context otherwise requires.
Canadian Rules:

1. For legal purposes, the classification of goods in the tariff items of a subheading or of a heading shall be determined according to the terms of those tariff items and any related Supplementary Notes and, mutatis mutandis, to the General Rules for the Interpretation of the Harmonized System, on the understanding that only tariff items at the same level are comparable. For the purpose of this Rule the relative Section, Chapter and Subheading Notes also apply, unless the context otherwise requires.

2. Where both a Canadian term and an international term are presented in this Nomenclature, the commonly accepted meaning and scope of the international term shall take precedence.

3. For the purpose of Rule 5 (b) of the General Rules for the Interpretation of the Harmonized System, packing materials or packing containers clearly suitable for repetitive use shall be classified under their respective headings.

 

Correctly understanding and interpreting the General Interpretive Rules (GIR), and using them to apply the most accurate HS code, is the basis of tariff classification. A customs broker has years of practice using the GIR to apply true and accurate HS codes chosen from the 99 Chapters of the Customs Tariff book.

In addition to the GIR’s contained in the Customs Tariff, a second publication, the Explanatory Notes, is used to assist in correctly classifying commodities. The Explanatory Notes is a list of definitions, explanations and rules that apply to and clarify headings and subheadings in the Customs Tariff.

As well as identifying the commodity and duty rate to CBSA, the HS code also indicates if the product requires additional clearances from other government agencies such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) or Natural Resource Canada (NRCan).

In the event that there is no obvious classification that fits the item being imported, an Advanced Ruling should be requested. An advanced ruling ensures that the item will be classified to CBSA’s satisfaction and there will be no penalty for misclassified items. This is recommended for any item that is not clearly stated in the Customs Tariff or appears to have more than one equally applicable tariff.


Posted: 29 August 2012, last updated 21 November 2012

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