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13.8.        The HS12 structure and the classification scheme. The HS is a structured nomenclature comprising a series of four-digit headings, most of which are further subdivided into five- and six-digit subheadings. The 2012 edition of the HS comprises 5,205 groups of goods identified by a six‑digit code (compared with 5,052 in the 2007 edition) and is provided with the necessary definitions and rules to ensure its uniform application. HS12 comprises a total of 1,224 headings which are grouped in 96 Chapters,[6] the latter being themselves arranged in 21 Sections. The headings are identified by a four‑digit code, with the first two digits indicating the Chapter in which the heading appears (a leading zero is used with the first nine Chapters) and the second pair of digits referring to the position of the heading within the Chapter. 

13.9.        The general structure of HS12 is as follows: 

Sections I to IV:            Agricultural products

Sections V to VII:         Minerals, chemical and related products, plastics, rubber and articles thereof

Sections VIII to X:       Animal products, such as hides, skins and furskins, as well as wood, cork, pulp, paper, and articles thereof

Sections XI and XII:     Textiles, footwear and headgear

Sections XIII to XV:    Articles of stone, plaster, cement, asbestos, mica and the like, ceramic products, glass, pearls, precious or semi-precious stones, precious metals, jewelry, base metals and articles thereof

Section XVI:                 Machinery, mechanical appliances and electrical equipment

Section XVII:                Vehicles, aircraft, vessels and associated transport equipment

Section XVIII:              Optical, photographic, cinematographic, measuring, checking, precision, medical or surgical instruments and apparatus, clocks and watches, musical instruments

Section XIX:                 Arms and ammunition

Sections XX and XXI:  Miscellaneous manufactured articles, such as furniture, lighting fittings, prefabricated buildings, sports requisites, works of art, collectors’ pieces and antiques 

Box XIII.1

Further information on the HS structure and the classification scheme

Classification scheme. The HS classification scheme is determined by the requirement that the HS should enable customs officers to classify goods presented to them by referring mainly to characteristics that are either directly observable or that can be established by the use of scientific instruments.  Therefore, many of the HS sections, chapters and headings are defined in terms of the goods’ natural origin or material of production.  However, natural origin or material of production is not always what gives goods their essential character.  In some cases, goods are normally classified by industry or by main use.  For example, the sections:

  • “Live animals; animal products” (Section I), “Vegetable      products” (Section II) and “Mineral products” (Section V) are defined by natural origin or material of production; while
  • “Products of the chemical or allied industries” (Section VI) and “Vehicles, aircraft, vessels and associated transport equipment” (Section XVII) are defined by industry or by main use. 

Order of goods. As a general rule, goods are arranged in order of their degree of manufacture: raw materials first, followed by unworked products, semi-finished products and finished products. For example, live animals fall in Chapter 1; animal hides and skins, in Chapter 41; and leather footwear, in Chapter 64. Although a higher-level category may be defined mainly by one criterion, its subdivision into lower-level categories can be defined by other(s).  For example:

  • Leather and articles of leather belong in Section VIII but, irrespective of having the same animal origin, they are classified in different chapters to reflect different stages of production (leather in Chapter 41; articles of leather in Chapter 42);
  • Heading 62.06 (“Women’s or girls’ blouses, shirts and shirt-blouses”) is divided into five subheadings according to the material from which they are made (of silk or silk waste, 6206.10; of wool or fine animal hair, 6206.20; of cotton, 6206.30; of man-made fibres, 6206.40; of other textile materials, 6206.90). 

Two categories of subheadings. Compilers of trade statistics should be aware that subheadings can be separated into two categories:

  • Subheadings covering goods specifically identified      as a part of the heading by indicating one or more specific attributes (e.g., “Corks and stoppers” of natural cork: 4503.10)
  • Residual subheadings covering all goods of the respective      heading not included in its other subheadings (e.g., “Other” articles of natural cork: 4503.90). 

The latter category comprises about 22 per cent of all 6-digit codes. Such subheadings may cover highly diverse goods, and their use in the coding of particular items should be undertaken with special care. Also, setting the control range for such subheadings is problematic, thus creating a data-quality issue. 

Splitting of headings into “one-dash” subheadings. Some headings are split into several “one-dash” subheadings.  Each such subheading is identified by a six-digit code, where the first four digits represent the heading’s code, and the last two digits refer to the subheading's position within the heading.  For example, heading 01.04 (“Live sheep and goats”) is split into two one-dash subheadings: 0104.10 (“Sheep”) and 0104.20 (“Goats”). 

One-dash subheadings divided into “two-dash” subheadings. The one-dash subheadings can be further divided into “two-dash” subheadings.  In such cases, one-dash subheadings are not coded; codes are assigned only to the two-dash subheadings. For example, heading 01.03 (“Live swine”), is split into two one-dash subheadings: “Pure-bred breeding animals” and "Other".  The former subheading is not further subdivided and is coded (0103.10), while the latter is split into two parts and not coded.  Rather, it is subdivided into "Other, weighing less than 50 kg" and "Other, weighing 50 kg or more", which are coded 0103.91 and 0103.92, respectively. 

Headings that do not contain subheadings. Headings that do not contain subheadings are treated, for data-processing purposes, as six-digit codes, carrying two zeros as their last two digits. 

Section, Chapter and Subheading Notes. The headings and subheadings of the HS are accompanied by Section, Chapter and Subheading Notes and interpretative rules, which form an integral part of the HS and are designed to facilitate classification decisions in general and to clarify the scope of the particular Sections, Chapters, headings and subheadings.

13.10.    Causes of amendments contained in HS12. Environmental and social issues of global concern are the major feature of the HS12 amendments, particularly owing to the use of the HS as the standard for classifying and coding goods of specific importance to food security and the early warning data system of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The volume of amendments within, for instance, Chapter 3, for the separate identification of certain species of fish and crustaceans, mollusks and other aquatic invertebrates, is substantial. The modifications aim at improving the quality and precision of trade data in these commodities. The amendments include, inter alia, improved specifications for species from the southern hemisphere. These amendments will enable economic trends in products other than those familiar to North Atlantic consumers to be monitored. In the same vein, new subheadings have been created for the separate identification of certain edible vegetables, roots and tubers, fruit and nuts, as well as cereals. The HS12 also features new subheadings for specific chemicals controlled under the Rotterdam Convention of the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade[7] and ozone layer depleting substances controlled under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozon Layer.[8] Other amendments resulted from changes in international trade patterns. These include deleting 43 subheadings due to the low volume of trade in specific products, separately identifying certain commodities in either existing or new headings, and reflecting advances in technology where possible.  Finally, a number of amendments aim to clarify texts to ensure uniform application of the HS. 

13.11.    Reuse of codes.  Whenever revisions are made to the HS, some existing items are deleted and new items are added by the creation of new headings (four-digit codes) or subheadings (six-digit codes).  In order to accommodate users who maintain data under different versions of the HS, code numbers for commodities that have been deleted are not re-used until a certain period has elapsed, unless reuse is unavoidable. Where possible, compilers are encouraged to follow the same practice for the more detailed commodity codes used in national commodity classifications. 

13.12.    Implementation of the HS12: correlation tables. The WCO Secretariat has issued the correlation tables between the 2012 and 2007 versions of the HS,[9] and updated HS publications, such as the Explanatory Notes, the Compendium of Classification Opinions and the Alphabetical Index. Customs administrations have the serious task of ensuring timely implementation of HS12, as required by the HS Convention. Trade data compilers are advised to cooperate with national customs administrations in ensuring that data collection in terms of HS12 is carried out on time.


[6] HS Chapter 77 is reserved for possible future use and HS Chapters 98 and 99 are reserved for special use by contracting parties. Countries should avoid, where possible, the use of Chapters 98 and 99.

[7] United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 2244, No. 39973.

[8] Ibid., vol. 1522, No. 26369.