top of page

1.   Meaning of the customs tariff number

The customs tariff number - often also referred to as the commodity code - plays a decisive role in foreign trade and is the central classification feature in international trade!


The correct indication of the customs tariff number is a central component in the context of both import and export. The customs tariff number is used to determine the amount of duties (tariff rates) for imports. In the case of exports, the customs tariff number is mainly of significance in terms of foreign trade law (e.g. export restrictions) and statistics.


The terms commodity code, code number, HS code or combined nomenclature are often used in connection with customs tariff numbers. These terms are related, but only partially identical.

How a customs tariff number / commodity code is structured and why it exists with 4,6,8 and even 10 and more digits is described here step by step.

2.   Legal basis

The legal basis for the classification of goods in the Combined Nomenclature is formed by the General Rules (GC) 1 to 6 as well as the section and chapter notes in the currently valid version of EC Regulation 2658/87.


According to the basic rules, there is only one applicable customs tariff number for each product.

More information about the General Regulations (GIR) 1 to 6.

3.   Harmonized System (HS)

The first 6 digits of the Harmonized Numbering System, also known as HS codes, provide a globally uniform basis for the recording and grouping / tariff classification of globally traded goods.


The Harmonized System (HS) was first introduced in 1988 and is administered by the World Customs Organization (WCO). The tariff numbers are based on a globally agreed tariff schedule with a total of 21 sections, 97 chapters and more than 5,000 individual headings, known as the Harmonized System. This is a uniform customs tariff schedule accepted by more than 200 countries, economic and free trade zones and regulated by the World Customs Organization (WCO). The Harmonized System thus covers 98 percent of world trade. The structure of the Harmonized System with regard to the first 6 digits is identical in almost all countries involved in world trade. A review and revision of the HS takes place regularly (so far 1996, 2002, 2007, 2012, 2017 and 2022).

What are the HS code sections?

There are 21 sections of the Harmonized System - the highest level of tariff code categorization. They are used to standardize, for example, broad categories such as different types of vegetables (Section II, Chapters 6-14). These 21 sections, with their 97 chapters and more than 5,000 line items, are specified by the WCO and are uniform in every member country. A complete overview can be found on our TARIC home page.

4.   Combined Nomenclature (CN)

The Combined Nomenclature (CN) of the European Union is based on the 6-digit code of the Harmonized System. The CN is published as a regulation in the Official Journal of the Community in October of each year and regulates the first eight digits (so-called 8-digit) of the customs tariff. This tariff comprises the Combined Nomenclature, the standard customs duties, the preferential tariff measures, the autonomous suspension measures and other tariff measures.


Differences in the import and export of goods


For exports from the EU area, the 8-digit commodity code is sufficient, i.e. without TARIC and national code.


For imports, the national code is always required. In Germany, this code is regulated by the Electronic Customs Tariff (EZT), which then provides the 11-digit code for a good upon import (so-called code number).

5.   TARIC (Tariff Intégré Communautaire)

The Integrated Community Customs Tariff, also called TARIC, is the basis for import clearance into the EU. Together with the 8-digit CN, the 10-digit TARIC subheading is formed. The TARIC results from an additional ninth and tenth digit and is identical to the CN in the first eight digits. For import declarations, EU measures such as anti-dumping measures, tariff suspensions or tariff quotas are assigned on the basis of this 10-digit coding.

6. Electronic customs tariff (EZT)

The 11th digit of the EZT code number is used for national purposes in Germany, such as the Value Added Tax Act or the Excise Tax Acts. National prohibitions and restrictions (VuB) are also mapped with the 11th digit. Mostly there is a zero at the 11th digit, then no further subdivision is necessary.


For customs tariffs in the other EU member states, the 10-digit subheading of TARIC is binding and can be supplemented by the member states, but not changed. In Germany, the 11-digit code number of the EZT must always be declared in the import declaration.

7.   Other regional nomenclatures and regional customs tariffs

There are several nomenclatures that are used in a country or an association of countries, such as the AHTN, the harmonized tariff nomenclature of the ten ASEAN countries. The Combined Nomenclature (CN) used by the EU is probably the best known from a European perspective. The most common customs tariffs are: Switzerland (TARES), USA (HTS), Japan (JTS) and China (CCT).

8.   Structure and application of the code number

Classification UK.png

9.   Summary of the structure of the customs tariff number

The numbers of the Harmonized System (i.e. the first 6 digits) are valid worldwide.


The Combined Nomenclature numbers (i.e. the first 8 digits) are valid within the European Union.

For import declarations in Germany, the 11-digit code number is always required. For exports from the EU area the 8-digit commodity code number is sufficient (i.e. without TARIC and national marking).


Not only if the task of tariff classification / grouping seems overwhelming for you at first sight, the applications and services will help you.

bottom of page