Guide to tariff classification for Canadian imports: The origins of tariff classification
On this page
- Why tariff classification is important
- History of the Customs Tariff
- The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System
- Related links
Why tariff classification is important
To import goods into Canada, you must have a 10-digit tariff classification number for your goods.
The correct classification number means:
- the appropriate amount of duties and taxes get paid
- import statistics used for domestic purposes get collected accurately
The classification number is entered in the commercial accounting Form B3-3, Canada Customs Coding Form (field 27).
Benefits of tariff classification
- Offers measures that relieve duties and foster economic development in Canada
- Helps businesses adjust to competitive pressures
- Reduces duties for Canada's trading partners and gives our businesses better access to their markets
- Protects the health and safety of Canadians
- Gives Canada the right to impose emergency surtaxes on imports that harm our producers
- Lets Canada assert our rights under trade agreements with other countries
Consequences of incorrectly classified goods
- Penalties and interest for non-compliance
- Potential loss of import privileges
- Delays at Canadian border ports of entry
History of the Customs Tariff
The Customs Tariff remains one of the key instruments used by the government to achieve its economic and trade policy objectives. Sections 10, 11 and 20 of the Customs Tariff are especially relevant to tariff classification.
In January 1988, Canada implemented the tariff and import statistical nomenclature (or legal text), which forms part of the Customs Tariff.
Canada did this to fulfill its obligations as a “contracting party” to the World Customs Organization’s (WCO’s) International Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (the convention).
The WCO is an intergovernmental body that Canada has been a member of since 1971.
The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System
The WCO developed the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (or HS) to create consistency in the way goods are classified internationally.
All parties to the convention, including Canada, use the HS as their standard tariff classification system.
HS codes are made up of:
- section, chapter and subheading notes
- General Rules for the Interpretation of the HS
Combined, these provide the standardized approach for the classification of goods internationally.
More than 200 countries and economies use the system:
- as a basis for their customs tariffs
- for the collection of international trade statistics
Over 98% of the goods in international trade are classified according to the HS.
In adopting the HS for economic interests and import statistical purposes, it was necessary to:
- expand the numerical structure of the international system
- by subdividing the subheadings to create tariff items and statistical suffixes
- develop Canadian rules, supplementary notes and statistical notes
- Form B3-3, Canada Customs Coding Form
- Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System
- Customs Tariff
- World Customs Organization
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