Terminology Time: HTS

“HTS” is a term that’s been in the news a lot lately. (You will also sometimes see it written as HTSUS.) So what’s it mean?

HTS is shorthand for the Harmonized Tariff Schedule – and I bet you already guessed that the US added to the end of the longer version stands for the United States. (Note that some importers will refer to an HTC or HTSC as well, with “C” standing for “Code.”)

Here’s the official definition:

The Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTS) sets out the tariff rates and statistical categories for all merchandise imported into the United States. The HTS is based on the international Harmonized System, which is the global system of nomenclature applied to most world trade in goods.

In simple English, every product is placed into a grouping under a specific number. This number is how you determine duty rates when importing. It’s a step structure with the top level grouping known as a “Chapter.” There are 99 chapters and while individual codes may differ from country to country as you move down the steps, basically the entire world uses the same top level coding.

The first two digits are the Chapter and the next two digits show broad categories. Then you get into the details. Let’s look at the first Chapter, 01, live animals for a simple example.

If you are bringing in an Arabian stallion to breed, it is coded as 0101.21.00.10 where a Thoroughbred brood mare would be 0101.21.00.20. But an ordinary horse? That’s 0101.29.00 and they don’t bother to separate them out by male or female. And if you want to call someone an ass, just say “you’re a real 0101.30.00.00.” (By the way, horses are free, but the government charges to import asses!)

Wood products are mostly covered by Chapter 44. The chapter begins with minimally processed material and moves down to a final highly processed miscellaneous category. For example, 4401 is fuel wood and 4402 covers types of charcoal. 4403 starts processed material with wood in the rough, and then you keep moving down to the end where you have 4420 for wood marquetry and inlaid wood and caskets and finally 4421 which includes other articles of wood, like hangers and blinds.

From those first four digits, you move down the steps, getting more detailed each time. Many of the last digits are species specific. For example 4412.33 is the new code for hardwood plywood products (a general catch all), but if you are bringing in a Birch face, that goes as 4412.33.06 while a walnut face is entered as 4412.33.26. Many of these species breakouts are for different tariff rates, but they are also often done for tracking purposes. Sometimes the government wants to study the import of a specific item and gives it its own number.

As you go down the steps, you’ll often find more country-specific differences appearing. For example, if you have an engineered flooring with a composite core, it would usually enter the US as 4412.99.5105, but enter Canada as 4412.99.9020. Both countries consider it a type of plywood (that’s the 4412 level), and both consider it a miscellaneous type (that’s the 99 level), but they handle it differently after that.

But countries will often disagree more significantly in their categorization of products. In Canada, they usually place solid moulding (like a quarter round) in 4409.29.9029. But the US will often place it in a different section: 4418.99.9095. You need to make sure you enter your material correctly based on the US definition. (Which unfortunately can sometimes mean a product leaves a country under one code and enters the US under another.)

As of October 1st, the HTSUS underwent a big update. Lots of codes changed so if you are importing, you may find a rejection of a familiar code. For example, last week you entered plywood engineered flooring under 4412.32 (with the last four digits varying with species.) From yesterday, you would enter it under 4412.33.

You look up HTS codes here: https://hts.usitc.gov/ and review the recent changes here. Or the entire thing is here.

Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

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