Commodity classification

Harmonized System

The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS) is an international commodity classification system made up of 6 digits (HS-06). Both export and import statistics used in the Canadian International Merchandise Trade (CIMT) database are available at the HS-06 detailed level. HS is used by nearly 200 countries or economic unions to classify more than 98% of total world trade.
In Canada, the international 6-digit root was extended to 8 digits for exports and 10 digits for imports.

This table illustrates the coding structure for imports and exports at the HS-06 level.

Harmonized System

01
01.01
0101.21

Chapter
Heading
Subheading

HS is based on a principle that goods are classified by what they are, not according to their stage of fabrication, use, made-in-Canada status, or other such criteria.

Economic activity or component material logically structures the HS Nomenclature. For example, animals and animal products are found in one section; machinery and mechanical appliances that are grouped by function are found in another.

The HS Nomenclature is divided into 21 Sections, which in general, group goods produced in the same sector of the economy. For example: Section IV, "Prepared foodstuffs; beverages, spirits and vinegar; tobacco and manufactured tobacco substitutes" (i.e. agricultural products) and Section VI "Products of the chemical or allied industries" etc. (i.e. chemical products, etc.).

Each Section is comprised of one or more Chapters with the entire Nomenclature being composed of 97 Chapters (Chapter 77 is reserved for possible future use). The Chapters of Sections I to XV (except Section XII) are grouped by Biological Genus (Section I, Chapters 1-5 "Live animals", "Meat", "Fish", "Dairy produce", etc.) or by the Raw Material from which articles are wholly or mainly made (e.g. Section VIII contains Chapter 41 - "Raw hides and skins"; Chapter 42 - "Articles of leather", etc.).

In Sections I to XV (except Section XII) the groups of products formed according to their basic material are structured or divided in two ways:

Horizontal - For the groups of products formed according to their basic material there is no apparent hierarchical order (e.g. Chapter 39 - "Plastics and articles thereof"; Chapter 44 - "Wood and articles of wood"; i.e. there is no discernable reason that Plastic should precede Wood.

Vertical - For those Chapters in which goods are grouped by raw material there is, however, a vertical structure in which articles are often classified according to their degree of processing. For example, Chapter 44 contains items such as rough wood, wood roughly squared, and some wooden finished products such as wooden tableware.

Articles may also be classified according to their use or function. This mainly occurs in Section XII and Sections XVI-XXI. For example, Section XVII contains:

  • Chapter 86 - Railway locomotives, etc.
  • Chapter 86 - Railway locomotives, etc.
  • Chapter 87 - Vehicles other than railway, etc.
  • Chapter 88 - Aircraft, etc.
  • Chapter 89 - Ships, etc.

The following example illustrates the hierarchical structure of HS code number.

  • 06 - Chapter:
    Live trees and other plants; bulbs, roots and the like; cut flowers and ornamental foliage;
    • 06.01 - Heading

      Bulbs, tubers, tuberous roots, corms, crowns and rhizomes, dormant, in growth or in flower; chicory plants and roots other than roots of heading no. 12.12;
      • 0601.10 - Subheading

        Bulbs, tubers, tuberous roots, corms, crowns and rhizomes, dormant;

The HS changes originate from the HS Committee, composed of representatives from all countries signatories to the HS convention. The Committee meets regularly at the offices of the World Customs Organization in Brussels, Belgium. It is supported by a permanent secretariat. Proposals for HS changes are submitted to the Committee through national representatives. Revisions to HS classification may happen every year, but these would consist of a minimal number of description changes, additions and deletions. Comprehensive revisions of the classification were done in 1992, 1996 and 2002. Since then, revisions have been made every five years, with the most recent updates being applied in 2017 and the next updates planned for 2022.

Concordance tables

A concordance between the 2012 and the 2017 six-digit HS classification codes is now available. This concordance table lists the terminated HS codes alongside the associated new 2017  HS codes.

More detailed concordances at the eight-digit (exports) and ten-digit (imports) Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System classification code levels are available upon request (statcan.itdtrade-dcicommerce.statcan@canada.ca).