Brussels Tariff Nomenclature – Definition

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Brussels Tariff Nomenclature (BTN) Definition

The Brussels Tariff Nomenclature (BTN) refers to a classification system for imported goods that was used internationally before 1976. BTN is a standardized system of classification for imported goods, it is used in the specification of tariffs and statistics for the goods.

The Brussels Tariff Nomenclature (BTN) was changed to Customs Cooperation Council Nomenclature (CCCN) in 1976.

However, CCCN also did not last, in 1988, it was outlived by the harmonized commodity description and coding system usually called the Harmonized System (HS) of tariff nomenclature. HS is based in Brussels, Belgium and has over 200 member countries. It is a standardized system of classifying products.

A Little More on What is the Brussels Tariff Nomenclature

The HS has a coordinated structure of 21 sections that are divided into 97 chapters. The 97 HS chapters are further divided into 5,000 headings and subheadings. Each section of the HS contains distinct materials that are categorized according to their economic activity. For instance, animal related products are in a section while mechanical ap-pliacnecs, equipment and machinery can be found in another section. The broad categories of goods are known through section titles and chapter titles. Headings and subheadings on the other hand give more details about the goods.

A typical HS code has six digits, the first two digits symbolise the HS chapter, the second two digits refers to the Hs heading while the last two digits designate the HS subheading. For example, a HS code of 4906.40 refers to chapter 49 (Printed materials) Heading 06 (Newspaper) and subheading 40 (local newspaper),

Furthermore, the structure of HS takes the form of chronological arrangement of sections and chapters in accordance to the degree of technological complexity involved in the manufacture.


The Harmonized System (HS) of tariff nomenclature is a standardized classification system for imported goods or traded products. ‘HS Classification’ refers to the process of assigning codes to products. Generally, products are classified (given codes) according to their composition or form and their functions. For instance, HS codes assigned to printed materials such as newspapers and journals will be different from the HS code given to machinery and equipment. It is the HS classification that aid the appropriate allocation of codes to traded products.  It is however important to know that products are classified according to three main factors, their form function and composition.

Here are examples of HS codes assigned to products based on their material composition;

0701.90 for potatoes of all kinds and forms

4414.00 for wooden frames paintings, photographs, mirrors, among others.

3924.90 for Tableware, kitchenware and others.

Products also classified according to their form are illustrated below;

Personal hygiene soap whether bar, cake or moulded shape are assigned 3401.11 as their HS code, while soap in other forms such as body wash, liquid soap for washing skin and others have the HS code 3401.20.

Products classified according to their function are exemplified below;

9027.10 is the HS code assigned to a CO detector that measures gas or used for chemical analysis such as polarimeters, spectrometers, refractometers, gas or smoke analysis and others.

A CO detector that does not display gas measurements but performs functions like visual signals, electric sounds,  sirens, indicator panels, burglar or fire alarms has the HS code 8531.10.

No product is excluded in the HS classification system, every product, regardless of its nature, composition, form and function is assigned a HS code. However, one significant thing to know about the Harmonized System (HS) of tariff nomenclature is that not all products have detailed or explicit description in the nomenclature. Products without explicit description are often categorised under the ‘residual’ or ‘basket’ heading.

A live dog is an example of a product that can be classified under the residual heading or subheading. The HS code for this is 01.06, it provides for live dogs and other live animals that are not described in the 01.01 to 01.05 headings.


The HS classification system is an acceptable and standardized system used worldwide. 180 countries applied for the HS system as at 2015. Basically, HS codes are needed for the monitoring and control of imported and exported products in these countries. HS classification system helps countries take statistics and specify tariffs for tarded products through; customs tariffs, trade negotiations, collection of internal taxes and international trade statistics, among others.

The HS classification systems is maintained by the World Customs Organization (WCO) nd tariff concessions, transport tariffs and statistics are carried out by the member countries. Government regulatory agencies, corporate organizations, statistical agencies, customs authorities and companies use HS codes to monitor and control traded products. Companies also use these codes to estimate the landed costs of imported products and to also find the appropriate places for exportation of the products.

References for Brussels Tariff Nomenclature

Academic Research on Brussels Tariff Nomenclature

Tariff protection in industrial countries: an evaluation, Balassa, B. (1965). Journal of Political Economy, 73(6), 573-594.

The January 1973 Tariff Revision, Glassburner, B. (1973). Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, 9(3), 103-108.

Trade benefits under the EEC generalized system of preferences, Sapir, A. (1981). European Economic Review, 15(3), 339-355.

An evaluation of the common agricultural policy as a barrier facing agricultural exports to the European Economic Community, Sampson, G. P., & Yeats, A. J. (1977). American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 59(1), 99-106.

Harmonized Systems and Rules of Origin, The, Asakura, H. (1993). J. World Trade, 27, 5.

The intra-industry trade of Benelux with the developing world, Tharakan, P. M. (1986). Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv, 122(1), 131-149.

The Brussels Tariff Nomenclature and Developing Countries, Ward, M. (1971). Economic Record, 47(4), 553-567.

Technology and neo-mercantilism in international agricultural trade, Malmgren, H. B., & Schlechty, D. L. (1969). American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 51(5), 1325-1337.

Tariff dispersion and trade negotiations, Cooper, R. N. (1964). Journal of Political Economy, 72(6), 597-603.

Foreign Trade Statistics: A basic market research tool, von Kirchbach, F. (1991, July). In International Trade Forum (No. 3, p. 22). International Trade Centre.

An Introduction to the Harmonized System, Chaplin, P. (1987). NCJ Int’l L. & Com. Reg., 12, 417.

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