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Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System

The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS) forms the basis of the Customs Tariff. The HS was developed and is maintained by the World Customs Organization (WCO), an independent intergovernmental organization with over 160 member countries, based in Brussels, Belgium.

The HS is structured upon a six-digit nomenclature. Almost 200 countries, representing about 98 percent of world trade use the HS as a basis for trade negotiations collecting international trade statistics, quota controls, rules of origin and for statistical and economic research and analysis.

Harmonized System Committee

The WCO's Harmonized System Committee (HSC) is the international authority on classification. HSC sessions are usually held in late September/early October and mid-March. The HSC's main roles include the following:

  • Resolve classification disputes between member administrations;
  • Issue classification decisions for goods presented by member administrations;
  • Work to ensure the uniform interpretation of the HS (e.g., the explanatory notes to the HS); and
  • Update the HS to include changes in technology and patterns of international trade.

Harmonized System Review Sub-Committee

The Harmonized System Review Sub-Committee (RSC) generally meets in late November and mid May. It is responsible for the systematic examination and refinement of proposals to amend the HS nomenclature and the preparation of any consequential changes to the explanatory notes.


Agendas for the HSC and RSC are usually available about two months before a session:

Click here to request information concerning an agenda item.

Note: These sessions deal with issues relating to the HS, not the Customs Tariff. While the HS makes up the first six digits (headings and subheadings) of the Customs Tariff, the rates of duty are set at the eighth-digit (tariff item) level.

Customs Tariff and the Harmonized System

The Department of Finance Canada has the legislative responsibility for the Customs Tariff and strives to ensure to the extent possible that changes to the Customs Tariff resulting from HS amendments are tariff-rate neutral.