What is a Harmonized System Code (HS Code) and why it matters to an Artisan?

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Harmonized System Code, or HS Code (sometimes called Commodity Code or Tariff Number), is a globally recognized alphanumeric code assigned to products. This code systematically categorizes goods for international trade, facilitating smooth commerce between countries.

For artisans, understanding the HS Code is crucial. It simplifies the complex world of international trade by providing a standardized language for products. This system ensures that customs authorities worldwide can easily identify and classify items, making cross-border transactions more efficient.

This blog will delve into the origins and structure of HS Code, emphasizing its significance for artisans. I’ll explore how this code affects pricing, regulatory compliance, and international trade facilitation. Real-world case studies will showcase how artisans navigate this system. Additionally, I’ll provide valuable tools, resources, and solutions to help artisans overcome challenges in dealing with Harmonized System Code (HS Code).

If you are an artisan seeking to sell your crafts or handmade products globally, then this blog post is for you. So stay tuned for an insightful journey into the world of HS Code and its relevance to international trade.

An image of a sign that says "Import/Export".

Understanding the Harmonized System Code

The Harmonized System Code, born in 1988, emerged from a global effort to simplify trade. Nations collaborated to streamline customs procedures, fostering efficient international commerce.

Purpose of its Creation

Crafted to enhance international trade, the HS Code aimed to provide a common language for categorizing goods. This simplified classification ensures consistent customs procedures globally, reducing trade barriers.

Structure and Format – Breakdown of the HS Code Structure

The Harmonized System Code follows a structured six-digit format, with additional digits (may appear as eight or ten digits) for more precise classification. The first two digits represent the chapter, indicating broad product categories. As we move through the digits, specificity increases, facilitating accurate identification.

Global Organization of the Harmonized System Code

Adopted by over 200 countries, the HS code (Commodity Code) boasts a uniform structure. Each nation adds more digits to suit specific needs, but the core remains consistent. This harmonization fosters a cohesive global understanding, easing cross-border trade by enabling standardized classification worldwide.

Significance of Harmonized System Code for Artisans

Understanding the HS Code is pivotal for artisans. It’s their global key, simplifying trade and ensuring compliance.

International Trade Facilitation

The HS Code acts as a trade passport, simplifying cross-border transactions. It enables quick and accurate identification, expediting the movement of goods worldwide.

A standardized coding system, like the HS Code, ensures a common language in international trade. This consistency fosters smoother communication, reducing confusion and errors in global transactions.

An image showing a sign saying "Customs," who are custodians for the classification of goods using the harmonized system code.

Regulatory Compliance

The HS Code serves as a compliance compass for artisans. It aids in adhering to diverse regulations by providing a universally recognized framework for classifying their handmade products.

For artisans, compliance is key to avoiding legal troubles. Accurate HS Tariff Code classification ensures adherence to customs regulations, safeguarding against fines and delays in the global market.

How Harmonized System Code Applies to Handmade Products

As we have already established, the HS Code also applies to handmade products created by artisans seeking to trade their crafts internally. In this section, I will be exploring the classification process and challenges when it comes to classification.

Classification Process

Artisans navigate the classification process by identifying their product’s characteristics. To determine an accurate code, they must follow HS Tariff guidelines, evaluating materials, usage, and composition.

I have often witnessed artisans (especially those new to international commerce) face challenges in classifying their handmade products, mostly due to lack of knowledge, complex product compositions or evolving regulations. Navigating these hurdles demands careful research and possibly seeking guidance for an accurate HS Code assignment.

Impact on Pricing

An important factor to note is that the Harmonized System Code directly affects pricing by influencing import/export duties (taxes). Accurate classification ensures fair duty rates, preventing unnecessary financial burdens on artisans (or their customers) and promoting fair trade practices.

Artisans can manage costs by investing time in precise code assignments. This strategic approach not only aids in accurate pricing but also helps avoid potential disputes, ensuring financial stability in the competitive global market.

Tools and Resources for Artisans

In this section, I will share essential tools and resources for artisans to determine the Tariff Number (Harmonized System Code) for their handmade goods. These tools and resources still apply to artisans selling through their personal websites, online marketplace or brick-and-mortar shops.

An image showing an artisan going through the process of determining a harmonized system code for her product.

Online Databases and Resources – Websites providing access to HS Codes

Artisans can tap into websites like the World Customs Organization for updated Harmonized System Codes. These platforms (search tools) offer easy access, aiding in accurate product classification. See below for additional search tools that artisans can use to find the right HS Code for their product(s):

Online tools simplify the classification process. Artisans can input product details and receive instant code suggestions, ensuring quick and accurate HS Code assignments.

Identifying a Harmonized System Code for a Product through a Search Tool

Artisans must know how to find the right number for the different types of products they sell. Just imagine these numbers as a table of contents. We’ll use a women’s silk blouse with the HS Code 6106.90 (HS Code 610690) as an example:

  • The first two numbers refer to the chapter of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule. For example, Chapter 61: “Articles of apparel and clothing accessories, knitted or crocheted”
  • The next two numbers are headings within the chapter. These get more specific. For example, within Chapter 61, heading 06 refers to “Women’s or girls’ blouses, shirts and shirt-blouses, knitted or crocheted (excl. T-shirts and vests).”
  • The last two numbers are the subheads within the chapter. These get even more specific about the type of item or the materials used. For example, the subhead .90 is for “Of textile materials, knitted or crocheted (excl. of cotton or man-made fibres, T-shirts and vests).”
  • When you combine the chapter, heading, and subheading, you get the tariff code “6106.90”.

I highly recommend that any artisan seeking to sell their craft globally make a list of the different types of handmade products they sell and start researching the HS Code (tariff numbers) for those items.


To summarize, Harmonized System Codes are artisan essentials that ensure smooth global trade by providing a standardized language for product classification. This systematic approach is crucial for accurate pricing, regulatory compliance, and successful international transactions.

So, artisans don’t just adapt – embrace the HS Code system. It’s not just a requirement; it’s your tool for unlocking success on the global stage. This system is your gateway to seamless international trade, from precise pricing to regulatory adherence. I highly recommend you list the different types of handmade products you plan to sell globally and start researching the HS Code (tariff numbers) for those items.

All the best in your product classification!

Eric Osuorah

Eric Osuorah

Eric Osuorah is a social entrepreneur and founder of the AFOMA Marketplace, a transformative platform that champions fair trade and sustainable income for artisans worldwide.

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