Contributing Lawyers


Cyndee Todgham Cherniak

United States

Susan Kohn Ross


Andrew Hudson

Canada Border Services Agency Promoting H.S. Tariff Classification Correctness/Compliance on Web-site

I agree with the Canada Border Services Agency that H.S. tariff classification compliance is important. I also know from my experience in helping clients that many Canadian importers have not done the work to ensure that the H.S. tariff classification codes that they use on import documentation is correct.

I have seen a few big mistakes in my days and the mistakes have translated into administrative monetary penalties (AMPS) and added customs duty.

The CBSA writes:

What do we mean by “Harmonized System compliance?

The Harmonized System (HS) is the standardized coding system of names and numbers used in international trade. Over 200 countries representing about 98 percent of world trade use the HS as a basis for customs tariffs and the compilation of international trade data and statistics. HS compliance refers to the mandatory proper classification and declaration of goods coming into or leaving Canada. As an importer or exporter, you are responsible for the correct declaration of your goods.

Why is the HS important?

The accurate classification of goods is a crucial component of a healthy and prosperous economy. It ensures a level playing field for all participants and enables governments to monitor the state of the economy and establish appropriate policies.

HS data is assembled from declarations of imports and exports. The data is then used to determine appropriate duty rates, negotiate trade agreements, maintain trade statistics, and effectively identify goods and shipments that pose a risk to the health, safety and security of Canada.

How does HS Compliance affect you?

Accurate HS data is of vital importance to the business community. Because this data is timely and detailed, it is one of the few economic indicators that is of immediate use to businesses. The demand for HS data has increased as a result of changes in the international trading environment, globalization, expanded free trade and widespread tariff reductions.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has a multitude of programs, services and legislation to educate the trade community and support voluntary compliance with the HS. The services and programs can be proactive, such as outreach activities, including free information seminars, and reactive, such as trade compliance verifications.

Note: Non-compliance can result in delays at the time of release of goods, the suspension of privileges, and monetary penalties assessed under the Administrative Monetary Penalty System.

What this posting by the CBSA indicates is that the CBSA intends to step up enforcement of HS tariff classifications. In a recent conversation with a client, I was informed that the CBSA spoke at length at the verification about the need for Statistics Canada to have accurate trade data. That client was assessed a significant amount of money and the reason given was the trade data needed to be accurate (that case turns on valuation instead of tariff classification).

In a recent tariff classification file, a client did not update the HS classification numbers it was using in 10 years. However, the HS classification system updates in 2007 changed the applicable code numbers as did Statistics Canada. As a result, the HS codes to be used had changed and the client did not keep up with developments.

In another recent tariff classification file, the CBSA issued a large assessment based on a difference in opinion over the applicable tariff classification. The client could have received a ruling to avoid the disagreement and cost.

The CBSA has importers' import data. Many importers will be contacted so that the CBSA can undertake on-site verifications of HS tariff classifications. Importers should not rely on the information of their exporters (often exporters use the U.S. tariff classifications and not the Canadian classifications in the Customs Tariff).

If you require more information about the HS classification of specific goods, please do not hesitate to contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-307-4168.

Leave a Reply

remember my information