All goods are given classification numbers. Different goods are allocated different classifications based on what they are - such as apples, which are distinct from pears - and according to their constituent parts or uses. For example, the commodity codes of most foodstuffs are based on the forms in which they are sold - dried, frozen, fresh, tinned etc.
How classification works
The same classification principles are applied to very different goods. Manufactured goods can be classified according to purposes, types and their constituent parts - for example a diamond ring is classified according to what it's made of and what use it's put to. Chemicals and pharmaceuticals follow a similar set of guidelines for commodity coding, so it's important to have an accurate analysis of their composition.
Goods are classified according to a system of 'Commodity Codes' which are used across the European Union (EU). These codes are found in the UK Integrated Tariff, available to purchase on CD-Rom or as an annual three-volume book with monthly updates by subscription which shows how every item traded internationally through the UK is to be treated.
An electronic version of Volume 2 of the Tariff is available free on this website. Access the UK Trade Tariff on the gov.uk website.
For more information on the various customs procedures associated with classification, see the page in this guide on using commodity codes, classification terms and the Tariff.
What is a Commodity Code?
Classifying your goods can be a complex process that moves through a number of steps. As the importer or exporter you're legally responsible for the correct Commodity Code being applied to your goods, even if you employ an agent to do this for you.
Commodity Codes vary according to their purpose. The ten digits of a full code are used for Taric imports (named after the classification system used across the EU), although for imports from within the EU you only need an eight digit classification code. An eight digit code is needed to make an export declaration and Intrastat declarations.
Classification of goods begins with the definition of the first four numbers, which are known as the heading numbers. The first two digits of a heading are known as the chapter numbers (sometimes called a section number), named for the chapter of the Tariff in which the broadest category of good is found, for example chapter 1 is live animals, animal products; chapter 5 is mineral products.
Classification further groups goods into the Harmonised System subheading (the fifth and sixth numbers) and Combined Nomenclature subheadings (the seventh and eighth numbers). Finally, the Taric subheading provides the last two digits of the ten digit code. An additional four digits is required for some Taric numbers. For further information on how the classification system works see our guide to classification of goods.
You can see further details about these documents in volume 1, part 1 of the Tariff.
The six General Rules for the Interpretation of the Nomenclature
The heading number is built up by reference to one of six basic rules, called General Rules for the Interpretation of the Nomenclature (GIRs). While GIRs don't define any particular goods, they do determine how the Tariff is used to establish a heading number for any good.
One of these rules will be used to classify your goods. If one rule doesn't apply, move to the next one in the list, and if that still doesn't apply, move to the next one and so on. These rules can be found in detail in volume 2, section 3 of the Tariff.
You can read a summary of how each rule works with examples for each rule in this guide.