International Trade: Export/Import Basics

How to research a foreign market for exports.

Import/Export Classification Systems

The first step in any export or import transaction is to classify your product.  The standard product classification system used by countries worldwide is the Harmonized System developed by the World Customs Organization.

You will need to know your product's HS Code in order to gather international trade statistics, research tariffs and tax rates, file documentation papers and complete many other parts of the export/import process.

How Do the Codes Work

Codes represent products in a standardized way. Two digit codes represent broad general product categories. Additional digits are added for detailed product classes. For example, in the Harmonized System (HS),

04.06 is the class number for Cheese

0406.20 is the class number for Grated or powdered cheese

HS Codes In the United States - The United States uses a modified form of the Harmonized System (HS) as the basis for its classification of imports and exports. The U.S. adds additional digits to the 6-digit HS code to identify products unique to U.S. markets. Exports are classified using Schedule B  and imports are classified with the Harmonized Tariff Schedules (HTS).

Find Your U.S. Product Code

The United States uses a modified form of the Harmonized System (HS) as the basis for its classification of imports and exports. The U. S. adds additional digits to the 6-digit HS code to identify products unique to the U.S. markets.

International Trade - Commodity Codes

Harmonized System (HS)

U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule
The Harmonized System is the most widely used trade classification system in the world. It is used by 177 countries to classify over 5,000 commodity groups, each identified with a 6-digit code.

SITC

SITC - Standard International Trade Classification 
The SITC is the commodity classification system used by the United Nations for trade data.  Countries use the 5-digit SITC to report export and import data to the United Nations. SITC classifies merchandise in approximately 3,000 commodity groups and is not as detailed as the Harmonized System (HS).

Understand the Harmonized System for U.S. Exports/Imports

This 5 minute video from the U.S.International Trade Administration (ITA) shows how to find your product's HS Code and for U.S. exporters, the product's Schedule B Code.