Harmonized system codes in the chemical industry

When shipping chemicals internationally a HS, also known as a Commodity code, is legally required by customs authorities. However, for chemicals identifying the correct code can be difficult. Getting it wrong can result in customs delays, fines and increased duty fees.

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To simplify the process of global chemical trading, the World Customs Organization (WCO) has introduced Chapters 28 and 29 of the Harmonized System (HS). However, the proper HS coding of chemicals remains a challenging task, especially for specialty chemical manufacturers.

How HS coding applies

In 1988, the World Customs Organization (WCO) launched the International Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, also known as the HS Convention.

The aim was to standardize trade documentation, facilitate international trade, and reduce its associated costs. The HS coding system was the outcome of this initiative.

The HS nomenclature is a standardized numerical system used to identify various commodities through 8 or 10-digit codes. For instance, the US uses a 10-digit code, while Switzerland uses an 8-digit system.

These codes are organized for easy identification, where the first two digits represent the HS chapter number, the next two the heading number, the third two the sub-heading, and the final two or four a domestic use identifier.

Section VI of the harmonized System covers the HS coding of chemicals, including Chapters 28 to 38. The headers for these chapters are as follows:

  • Chapter 28 Inorganic chemicals, organic or inorganic compounds of precious metals, rare-earth metals, radioactive elements, or isotopes
  • Chapter 29 Organic chemicals
  • Chapter 30 Pharmaceutical products
  • Chapter 31 Fertilizers
  • Chapter 32 Tanning or dyeing extracts, tannins and their derivatives, dyes, pigments, and other coloring matter, paints and varnishes, putty and other mastics, inks
  • Chapter 33 Essential oils and resinoids, perfumery, cosmetic or toilet preparations
  • Chapter 34 Soap, organic surface-active agents, washing preparations, lubricating preparations, artificial waxes, prepared waxes, polishing or scouring preparations, candles, and similar articles, modeling pastes, “dental waxes” and dental preparations with a basis of plaster
  • Chapter 35 Albuminoidal substances, modified starches, glues, enzymes
  • Chapter 36 Explosives, pyrotechnic products, matches, pyrophoric alloys, certain combustible preparations
  • Chapter 37 Photographic or cinematographic goods
  • Chapter 38 Miscellaneous chemical products

Difficulties with HS coding

While it is possible to review information by chapter, the rules, terminology, and explanatory notes within the HS system can be highly complex and challenging, even for trained chemists and trade compliance specialists.

Inorganic and organic chemicals are typically classified under Chapters 28 and 29, encompassing the majority of individual chemicals. The remaining chapters generally cover mixtures, alloys, or finished products with specific purposes that contain chemicals (such as glue and soaps).

Even if a company is confident that its raw materials fall under the inorganic/organic category, Chapter 28 alone has 50 heading codes, each with multiple subheadings defined by chemistry. It is still necessary to consider the intended use of the product accurately.

Getting incorrect chemical HS codes can result in high costs, through penalties, customs delays or duty, which is why chemical companies often prefer to work with consultants experienced in dealing with customs authorities and chemical classification.

However, this approach is not always cost-effective or time-efficient.

Scitegrity solution for HS coding

While consulting services can be an option, they can be slow and expensive.

To address this, Scitegrity provides a unique solution through ExpediChem, a software tool designed for efficient and accurate chemical HS coding.

This software does not require extensive chemical expertise, as users can search for the HS code by chemical, common name, or structure. Novice users and those without knowledge of chemical or HS coding can easily and accurately determine the HS code for proprietary or novel chemicals in just a few seconds.

About Scitegrity

Want to know if your chemical is controlled, regulated, has the potential for abuse or just need a tariff code?

Our regulatory and chemistry experts encode chemical regulations from around the world allowing you to simply answer these questions and more by drawing or looking up a chemical structure.

We make regulatory compliance a simple, robust, background process. Join with 5 of the worlds top 10 pharma, chemical suppliers, regulators, CROs, forensics labs and more who trust and rely on our solutions.

Scitegrity was founded in 2011 by ex-Pfizer, GSK and Roche chemists and data scientists with the goal of making compliance to chemical regulations are far more robust, accurate and automatic.

By automatically checking all the chemicals an organisation has at the structure level, it allows enterprise wide automatic compliance checks against hundreds of regulations globally, even for novel and proprietary chemical collection running into millions of chemicals.

Last updated: Jan 29, 2024 at 7:11 AM


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