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1.   General

Have you also heard the term "General Regulations" (GR) in connection with the customs tariff number? The "General Regulations" are intended to ensure that the same customs tariff number (HS code) is selected for the same goods worldwide. For the classification of goods in the customs tariff, there are the so-called General Regulations. These are six regulations that guide us to the correct commodity code.


By means of the so-called "General Regulations for the interpretation of the Harmonized System", a uniform classification of goods in the customs tariff is guaranteed worldwide. This means that you can always assign a particular good to only one customs tariff number.


The General Regulations were issued by the World Customs Organization and have legal character in more than 200 countries. For this reason, you will find the exact wording consistent in the individual national customs tariffs of the world.


In Germany, you will find the General Regulations in the "EZT" under Texts in the Table of Contents.

2.   General regulations 1

The general regulations ("GR 1") is the basic provision for classifying goods in the customs tariff. It is used for each classification and reads as follows:


The headings of the sections, chapters and subchapters are for guidance only. Classification shall be determined solely by the wording of the headings and the notes to the sections or chapters and, unless otherwise specified in the headings or in the notes to the sections or chapters, by the General Rules set out below.


If you want to classify your product in the customs tariff, the first challenge is to find the appropriate four-digit heading. Mentally make a collection of substances and consider in which chapter the product could be listed. Orientate yourself on the goods address in the tariff (substance/use) and the production principle. Keep in mind the first sentence of GR 1 and consider the designation of sections, chapters and subchapters as a guide. According to the second sentence, the decisive factor for classification is the text of the four-digit heading. This text is decisive and must be matched with the product to be classified. Furthermore, the notes are decisive, namely to the sections and chapters, as well as the further general regulations, especially 2 and 3.


Thus, the GR 1 provides us with a test sequence:


1. wording of the item

2. notes to the section and chapters

3. other general provisions




Classification up to the eleven-digit tariff number is done by GR 6. See section "General regulations 6".

3.   General regulations 2

General regulations 2 ("GR 2") expands the wording of the position in the tariff so that products that have special characteristics at the relevant time can also be classified there.


The GR 2 is divided into two sections:


  • GR 2a) deals with goods that are incomplete, unfinished, disassembled or not yet assembled.

  • GR 2b) expands the wording so that products made of different materials can be assigned to one heading.


GR 2a)

For incomplete or unfinished goods, provided that they have the essential quality characteristics of the complete or finished goods in their present condition, the specifications of goods in the item shall apply. This shall also apply to goods disassembled or not yet assembled at the time of provision. 


To be allowed to expand the wording, now check whether your goods are actually incomplete, unfinished, disassembled or not yet assembled.


This results in the following system for the application of GR 2a):


The following table illustrates what is meant by these terms in the collective agreement:​

Criteria Eng.png
  1. If your product is a complete or finished main product, classification is made via GR 1 ff.

  2. If components/processing steps are missing, but the goods have the essential characteristics of the complete/finished goods, then classification is made as unfinished, incomplete or not yet assembled goods (GR 2a) sentence 1/sentence 2).

  3. If more components/processing steps are missing, so that the goods do not - yet - have the essential characteristics of the complete/finished goods, then classification is made as parts or accessories (see section 4 "Classification of parts and accessories") or according to their own material characteristics.


GR 2b)

GR 2b) expands the wording of a (material) heading in the tariff if a good consists at least partly of a material or substance:


Any mention of a substance in a heading applies to that substance both in its pure state and mixed or combined with other substances.


Any citation of goods made of a particular substance applies to goods made wholly or partly of that substance.


Such mixtures or articles consisting of more than one substance are classified according to the principles of General Rule 3.


Strictly speaking, an article, e.g., an empty glass bottle with a plastic lid, would not be classifiable either as an article of glass or as an article of plastics, because in both substance chapters the wording would be either


  • heading 7010 - bottles of glass or

  • Heading 3923 - Plastic packaging materials.


Both wordings do not apply, because it is a bottle made of glass AND plastic.

The GR 2b) now makes it possible to solve this problem. If an article is at least partly made of a material, it may be classified as an article made of that material.

The bottle is at least partly made of glass, so that the GR 2b) allows classification under heading 7010. The proportion of plastic in the bottle is small - i.e. not "partly" present. Therefore, no extension of the wording of heading 3923 is possible. Thus, the bottle made of glass with a plastic lid is classified in heading 7010 on the basis of GR 2b).


Any heading wording referring to a material or substance can be expanded by means of GR 2b). The only exceptions are headings that require material purity in the wording. An example of this is heading 1701 - Chemically pure sucrose.


Meaning and purpose of GR 2


The GR 2 expands the wording of headings. It helps to classify goods if they have special features at the relevant time.

It extends the wording in the following cases:

  • Incomplete goods to complete goods

  • In the case of unfinished products to finished products

  • In the case of disassembled or not yet assembled products to assembled goods

  • In the case of a combination of incomplete or unfinished dismantled or not yet assembled goods

  • In the case of classification of goods consisting only in part of a substance or of mixtures containing one or more components of mixtures.

4.   General regulations 3

General regulations 3 ("GR 3") specifies how concurrences can be resolved when there are multiple applicable item wordings.


Concurrences occur in the following cases:


  • in the case of two or more eligible substance headings

  • in the case of one product for which both substance and purpose items are possible

  • for a product which is composed of different components

  • in the case of a product for which several functional headings are possible

  • for goods with several functions, which lead to different headings.


The GR 3b) also specifies how sets of goods are classified.


A prerequisite for the application of GR 3 is that there is no special regulation (item wording or note) to resolve a competition. This means that the test sequence specified in GR 1 remains unchanged:


1. position wording

2. remarks

3. further AV


The GR 3 is divided into three sections, that is, there are three possibilities to resolve a competition. These three possibilities must always be examined in sequence:

Where more than one heading is involved in the classification of goods under GR 2(b), proceed as follows:


GR 3a)

The first part of the GR 3 resolves competitions by means of a more detailed description of the goods in the item wordings. However, there are a few peculiarities to be taken into account:


Headings with a more specific description of goods shall in principle take precedence over headings with a general description of goods. Two or more headings, each of which relates to only part of the substances contained in a mixed or composite product, or to only one or more of the components of a set put up for retail sale, shall be regarded as having the same degree of precision even if one of them contains a more specific or complete description.


The first sentence of GR 3a) specifies that the wording of the relevant headings shall be compared. The wording of the heading which describes the goods more precisely is applicable. It should be noted that a named description is always more accurate than a general generic/collective description. The purpose of a good is also more accurate than if only the material of a good is named.


Sentence 2 of GR 3a) specifies when a competition cannot be resolved via the more precise description of the goods. If you have only item wordings to choose from, each of which refers to a part of a mixed good (e.g. the grain mixture of barley and rye), or if there are only substance items to choose from, or if it is a combination of goods, the resolution is not possible via the GR 3a).


In this case, the next step is to check whether the competition can be resolved via GR 3b).


GR 3b)


The second part of AV 3 resolves competitions over a character-conferring ingredient or substance. However, a few peculiarities must be taken into account:

Mixtures and goods consisting of different substances or constituents which are not submittable under GR 3(a) and sets put up for retail sale shall be classified according to the substance or constituent which gives them their essential charact


GIR 3b) is used for the resolution of competition, if this was not possible by means of a more detailed description of the goods of one of the headings. It is used in case of mixtures and goods consisting of different substances for which no resolution is allowed on the basis of the second sentence of GC 3a. It is also applied to goods consisting of different components or functions, and in particular to sets of goods.


If classification according to GC 3b) is permissible, the decision on the applicable heading is made according to the substance or component that confers character. If a substance or component can be identified which determines the character of the goods, the goods shall be classified as if they consisted wholly of that substance or component.

Criteria for determining a character-conferring substance or ingredient are:


  • Type and nature

  • volume

  • Quantity

  • Weight

  • Value

  • Meaning

  • Flavor


When determining the substance or ingredient that imparts character, ingredients/goods of the same heading may be grouped together.

4.1   The classification of sets of goods

A set of goods is basically a set consisting of various components. Examples of sets are:


  • shirt with tie, packed together

  • Set consisting of pencils with ruler, eraser, sharpener.


In order for the whole set to be classified under one heading in the customs tariff, three conditions must be met:


  1. The components must fall under at least two different headings of the tariff.

  2. The set of goods is used to satisfy a particular need or to carry out a particular activity. This requirement is strictly interpreted.

  3. The set is in presentation for retail sale: it can be delivered to the consumer without repackaging.

If all three requirements are met, the set is also a set for tariff purposes. The whole set is classified in one heading. The decisive factor is then the character-imparting component.


If one of the requirements is not met, all components must be classified separately. This is much more time-consuming than assigning only one tariff number. Companies tend to interpret the rule somewhat more generously. However, this is strictly checked by the customs administration.

When applying the GR 3b), the test sequence specified in the GR 1 must also be adhered to. This means that the competition is only resolved via GR 3 if this is not possible via GR 1 (the item wording or a note).

4.2   The classification of goods from different components

These products can be in different forms:


  • The individual components are firmly joined together: Loosening leads to the destruction of the goods or requires the removal of fasteners (screws). In this case, the product is a unitary good that must be assigned to a heading.

  • A good whose components can be separated without further aids. Here it must first be decided whether it is a uniform good or a majority of goods. It is a uniform good if the components fit together, complement each other and are usually sold together. This is assigned to an item. If this does not apply, it is a majority of goods. As a result, the components must be classified individually.


GR 3c)


The third part of GR 3 resolves concurrences if this was not possible via GR 3a) or b):


The last-mentioned heading in the nomenclature of headings equally to be taken into consideration shall be used for the classification of goods which cannot be classified in accordance with GR 3(a) and 3(b).


Classification is thus made in the heading which is mentioned last in the nomenclature.

5.   General regulations 4

The GR 4 is hardly ever used in practice. The reason for this is that the Harmonized System is very comprehensive and complete. It is also subject to regular revision.


However, the GR 4 was created so that goods whose material composition and intended use are not yet foreseeable (e.g. new inventions) can also be included in the tariff:


Goods shall be classified in accordance with the headings to which they are most similar, if they cannot be classified in accordance with the foregoing General Rules.

6.   General regulations 5

The GR 5 regulates how to proceed with the classification of containers and packaging that are declared to customs together with the goods. The GR 5 thus preserves the connection between the goods and the associated container/packaging. They also form a unit in terms of tariffs.


If only the container or packaging is presented to customs, it must be classified according to its own nature.


GR 5a) - Classification of containers

The GR 5a) must be observed for the classification of containers:

Containers are classified as the goods for which they are intended, if they are presented and usually sold together with these goods (e.g. for cameras, musical instruments, weapons, drawing instruments, jewelry).


This GR shall not apply to containers which give the whole its essential character.

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GR 5b) - Classification of packaging


For the classification of packaging, the GR 5b) shall be observed:


Customary packaging shall be classified in the same way as the goods contained therein, subject to GR 5 a) above. This does not apply if the packaging is clearly suitable for multiple use.


The term "packagings" means inner and outer containers, presentations, wrappings and supports, with the exception of means of transport - in particular containers -, tarpaulins, loading tackle and accessories used in transport. The term "packagings" does not include the containers referred to in GR 5a).

7.   General regulations 6

The GR 6 is the counterpart to the GR 1. The GR 1 is decisive for the classification in the heading, the GR 6 accordingly for the subheading(s):


The wording, the subheading notes and the above General Rules applied mutatis mutandis shall determine the classification of goods in the subheadings of a heading. 


Only subheadings of the same subdivision level are comparable. The application of this General Rule shall also apply to the notes to the sections and chapters, unless otherwise specified.


Here, too, the wording of the subheadings must be checked first, followed by the notes and, in the third step, the other GIR. When classifying the subheadings, most cases can already be solved with the wording of the subheadings.


It is important to always compare the wording of the subheadings of an outline level. In the online application of the EZT, these are all subheadings that hang on a chain under a folder. In the classification with the statistical goods index, these are the subheadings with the same number of bullet points.

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