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Know Your Code: The Harmonized System and North American Industry Classification System
March 22, 2022 Ken Click, Business Development Specialist

A blog post from earlier this month highlighted free online government data and tools that provide insights about and identify opportunities in the global marketplace. Many of these tools require users to input a product identifying code, such as a Harmonized System (HS) code or North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. While these codes may seem similar, they represent completely different classification systems – one applies to international trade while the other pertains to businesses by type of economic activity.

Managed by the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Harmonized System is used in international trade. According to the WCO, “over 98% of the merchandise in international trade is classified in terms of the HS” and the system is “extensively used by governments, international organizations and the private sector for many other purposes such as internal taxes, trade policies, monitoring of controlled goods, rules of origin, freight tariffs, transport statistics, price monitoring, quota controls, compilation of national accounts, and economic research and analysis.”

HS codes are 6-digits, tied to a specific product description, and can be found on the U.S. International Trade Commission’s Schedule B database. Schedule B codes are an extension of HS codes. They are 10-digits and used for exporting products from the U.S. For example, a database search for ‘string musical instruments’ turns up 4-digit HS code 9202 (representing this broad category), but a more specific product description within this category such as ‘string musical instruments that are played with a bow’ becomes a 6-digit HS code 9202.10 with a 10-digit Schedule B code of 9202.10.0000. More information about understanding these codes, including the application of Schedule B codes, can be found on the International Trade Administration website.

Unlike HS codes, NAICS codes are only used in North America and categorize businesses by type of economic activity, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To find NAICS codes, the U.S. Census Bureau offers a search feature on its website and a downloadable manual containing the full list. Returning to the string musical instrument example, a search for this product category in the U.S. Census NAICS database turns up ‘musical instrument manufacturing’ (6-digit NAICS code 339992) along with a list of all manufacturers (non-string and string musical instruments) which fall under this code. These results show the product manufacturer type rather than the type of product.

Businesses who know their codes can take advantage of the free government tools and resources available to those who are searching for trade-related information. To learn more about EXIM's eligibility criteria or to get started, please click here to schedule a free consultation with an EXIM trade finance specialist. 

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EXIM’s Blog postings are intended to highlight various facets of exporting, but the postings are not legal advice, and are not intended to summarize all legal requirements associated with exporting.