Decoding Harmonized Tariff Codes

In global trade, a label is more than just a label.

Bill Ansley | UPS

The word harmony itself is soothing. Think about it. Harmony evokes images of consistency, pleasure and order in chaos.

If your company is shipping to other parts of the world, that order is not only appreciated but also critical.

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Every imported or exported product has an HTS code. It’s universal and applies across countries.

How does this apply to shippers? Through the use of harmonized tariff codes and the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS).

According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, the HTS “is a global nomenclature system used to classify traded goods based on their material composition, product name and/or intended function.”

Imagine walking up to a Boston terrier owner and saying, “That’s such a beautiful golden retriever!”

Your argument? A dog is a dog, right? Well, yes, but clearly all dogs aren’t the same. And sometimes it’s important to know the difference.

A similar argument in the world of global trade applies. Enter harmonized tariff codes.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you are shipping Widget A and Widget B, but you incorrectly label everything as Widgets. If the duty on Widget B is half that of Widget A, you might be paying too much by not getting specific enough in your classification.

Companies have worked with UPS Trade Management Services to reclassify their products crossing borders, resulting in significant savings that go straight to the bottom line.

Faster clearance

Every imported or exported product has an HTS code. It’s universal and applies across countries, cultures, time zones and languages.

As the standard international reference for classifying products for duty and clearance, HTS groups items into broad categories and then refines them further into narrow groups.

Similar to the classification of animals into kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus or species, products are narrowed down into their correct “bucket.”

The important part is selecting the most specific tariff code available to describe your product. It can significantly speed up the customs process and minimize duties.

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The important part is selecting the most specific tariff code available to describe your product.

Take, for example, cell phone cases.

The classification of cell phone cases depends on the material they are made of (plastic, leather or metal) and their intended use. And not all cell phone cases have the same intended uses. Some cases are designed to simply protect a phone, while others have tools like cameras or flashlights.

Finally, if the material for the cell phone case is much more valuable than the purpose of serving as a case, then the case may be classified by the material it’s made of. A 24-karat gold cell phone case wouldn’t be classified as a case but as 24-karat gold.

It’s important to think carefully about your HTS codes because a better understanding can boost your bottom line.

Among the reasons:

Calculating landed costs

HTS codes determine the duties, fees and taxes required by the import country or if a product is exempt based on free trade agreements.

Ensuring import compliance.

Accurate classification ensures shippers comply with import regulations, avoiding penalties, fines and delays for misclassification.

Limit risk

Product classification sets the foundation for regulatory compliance throughout the entire trade process.

Correct classification will result in accurate calculation of duties and taxes and the avoidance of customs penalties due to errors. Equally important, though, is accurate classification can also help you avoid delays with shipping and can curb additional administrative costs.

Other government agencies administering import and export laws and regulations should also use HTS classifications to determine whether goods are subject to their agency rules.

Improper classification could result in penalties or delays from agencies other than Customs, like the equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

When choosing a shipping company, it’s important to take the time to classify your products. In doing so, companies can work with a carrier with an eye on minimizing duties, taxes and additional costs.

What’s more, your business will have the correct inputs to determine landed costs, as well as cost of goods sold.

Smart companies will look for expert advice with classification and teams that can classify the shipper’s products.

Click here to learn more about UPS Trade Management Services.

This article first appeared as sponsored content on The Wall Street Journal Logistics Report and was republished with permission.

You might also like:

Global Demand Needs Global Supply

The Wages of Trade

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Time for Small Business to Think Big

Bill Ansley is Vice President of UPS Supply Chain Solutions, Customs, and Trade Compliance.

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