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Terms of Reference of the Harmonized System Committee

Confirmed by the Council - June 2003

Updated - June 2005

Updated - June 2010

Updated - June 2015

Established : 1988

Duration :  Unspecified

1. Mandate

The HS Committee performs functions as described in Article 7 of the HS Convention.  To that end, the Committee acts under the overall direction of the WCO Council and Policy Commission, with administrative support provided by the WCO Secretariat.

The Committee therefore refers issues concerned to the Council on the basis of the provisions of Article 8.1 (Article 16 amendments) or Articles 8.2 and 8.3 (corrigendum amendments, etc) of the Harmonized System (HS) Convention.

The Chairperson also reports on the work of the Committee at each Session of the Council as specified in Rule 24 of the Rules of Procedure of the HS Committee.

2. Membership

As described in Article 11 of the HS Convention, the following are eligible to become Contracting Parties (CPs) to the Convention :

  • Member States of the Council;
  • Customs or Economic Unions to which competence has been transferred to enter into treaties in respect of some or all of the matters governed by the Convention; and
  • any other State to which an invitation to that effect has been addressed by the Secretary General at the direction of the Council.

3. Purpose and Scope

The purpose and scope of the HS Committee is to :

  • interpret the HS legal texts in the most appropriate manner to secure uniform classification of goods, including settlement of classification disputes between CPs, thus facilitating trade (uniform interpretation and application);
  • amend the HS legal texts to reflect developments in technology and changes in trade patterns as well as other needs of HS users (updating);
  • promote widespread application of the HS (promotion);
  • examine general questions and policy matters relating to the HS (general and policy matters).

4. Key Deliverables

The HS Committee's key deliverables are to :

uniform interpretation and application

  • settle classification questions and disputes;
  • revise the HS Explanatory Notes and Classification Opinions;
  • secure speedy and uniform implementation of classification decisions;
  • draft recommendations to secure uniformity in the interpretation and application of the HS, for example, the Recommendations on Pre-entry Classification Programmes and the Good Classification Work Model;
  • support the work of the Secretariat in ensuring uniform application of the HS, such as with regard to the publication of the HS database (On‑line and CD-ROM), Correlation Tables between the current edition and the amended edition of the HS, the HS Classification Handbook and the Alphabetical Index.


  • amend legal texts to reflect developments in technology and changes in trade patterns as well as other needs of HS users;
  • encourage CPs to implement the amendments in a timely manner.


  • support the initiatives of the Secretariat to provide guidance to non-Contracting Party HS user countries to accede to the HS Convention and to assist non-HS user countries to apply the HS;
  • encourage the use of the HS in non-traditional areas and provide guidance to such users (e.g., with regard to ozone depleting substances, hazardous wastes, chemical weapons, CITES, narcotics, hazardous chemicals and pesticides, persistent organic pollutants).

General and policy matters

  • examine a series of general questions that are not directly related to the HS Nomenclature, but certainly provide assistance with regard to the uniform application and maintenance of the HS.

5. Means of Operation

The Committee, under its Chairperson who is elected from among the delegates, examines issues on the basis of documents prepared by the Secretariat, which incorporate comments and proposals from administrations.

Each member of the Committee may nominate one delegate and one or more alternates to be its representatives on the Committee (Rule 3 of the Rules of Procedure of the HS Committee).

The representatives should be officials responsible for and specialized in HS classification matters.  They may be assisted by advisers.

Representatives of 40 % or 40 of the members of the Committee, whichever is lower, constitute a quorum (Rule 18 of the Rules of Procedure of the HS Committee).

Each CP has the right to one vote.  However, the EU and its members together exercise one vote in accordance with Article 6.4 of the HS Convention.

Decisions concerning amendments to the Rules of Procedure of the Committee are taken with not less than two-thirds of the votes attributed to its members (Rule 19 of the Rules of Procedure of the HS Committee and Article 6.6 of the HS Convention).

Decisions concerning amendments to the Convention are taken by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the votes cast by members (Rule 19 of the Rules of Procedure of the HS Committee) followed by unanimous acceptance of the CPs (Article 16 of the HS Convention).

Other decisions (classification decisions, adoption of the Explanatory Notes, Classification Opinions, etc.) are taken by a simple majority of the votes cast by the members of the Committee (Rule 19 of the Rules of Procedure of the HS Committee), followed by a deemed approved procedure of the Council (Articles 8.2. and 8.3 of the HS Convention).

The Secretary General may invite representatives of States which are not Members of the Council and, subject to the approval of the Chairperson of the Committee, representatives of intergovernmental or other international organizations and any experts whose participation is considered desirable to attend meetings of the Committee as observers (Rule 6 of the Rules of Procedure of the HS Committee).

The Committee's activities are supported by the Review Sub-Committee (for updating of the HS), the Scientific Sub-Committee (for chemical matters), the Working Party (for drafting texts of the Explanatory Notes, Classification Opinions, etc.) and the Nomenclature and Classification Sub-Directorate.

6. Resources Required

The HS Committee meets twice a year.  Each session lasts two weeks.

The WCO Secretariat is responsible for :

(a) preparation for each meeting, including :

  • administrative preparation, including typing, sorting, filing of documents;
  • inviting comments of members of the HS Committee regarding technical and other matters;
  • distributing an annotated agenda eight (8) weeks prior to meeting dates in the two official languages;
  • drafting comments on working documents, etc. which are generally completed eight weeks prior to the meeting;
  • ensuring that all working documents are available to members of the HS Committee four (4) weeks prior to meeting dates in the two official languages and Russian and Spanish (working languages of the HS Committee) as hard copy and on the WCO Web site.

(b) the meeting itself, including :

  • presenting reports and proposals;
  • facilitating the course of the meeting;
  • taking note of discussions;
  • preparing a draft report.

(c) Follow-up to the meeting, including :

  • preparing the final meeting report and distributing it to members of the HS Committee;
  • publishing instruments adopted by the HS Committee, after approval by the WCO Council.