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30 years of the Harmonised System

Global harmonised system for trade

2018 marks the 30th Anniversary of the Harmonised System (HS), one of the most successful instruments developed by the World Customs Organization (WCO).

The Harmonised System, a series of standardised codes used for trade (which form the first 6 digits of EU Commodity Codes), came into effect on 1st January 1988, and allows a world of many languages to speak with one. Used by more than 200 countries, territories and Customs or Economic Unions, the Harmonised System plays a key role in facilitating international trade. Used for around 98% of world trade, the Harmonised System is used as the basis for:


  • Customs tariffs,
  • Trade policies and quota controls,
  • Collection of international trade statistics and data exchange,
  • Rules of origin,
  • Trade negotiations such as the WTO Information Technology Agreement and Free Trade Agreements,
  • Monitoring of controlled goods, for example, chemical weapons precursors, hazardous wastes and persistent organic pollutants, ozone depleting substances and endangered species and
  • Many customs controls and procedures, including risk assessments and profiling, electronic data input and matching and compliance activities; and Economic research and analysis.


Currently the WCO is in the 6th edition of the HS and in the process of preparing the Seventh Edition of the HS (HS 2022). During the life of the HS, there have been 60 meetings of the Harmonised System Committee (HSC) where 4,144 agenda items were discussed, 10 Recommendations were produced concerning the application of the HS Convention, 2280 classification decisions made and 871 Classification Opinions adopted to ensure the harmonisation of classification. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary, the WCO calls for the international Customs community, in partnership with the international trade community, to continue to be proactive and pursue its efforts to develop and maintain the HS, especially in terms of the application and uniform interpretation of the HS, so as to safeguard and further grow the benefits of this success.


Source: World Customs Organisation