Electronic customs tariff – how to find the correct classification

Every company importing or exporting goods reaches the point where it has to ask itself how it can quickly and easily find the right solution Goods tariff number to find out who did this. In principle, each importer or exporter is responsible for the correct classification of goods in the customs tariff. However, the correct classification can be difficult under certain circumstances. Customs law is usually quite complex.

A helpful tool in this respect is provided by the German Federal Finance Administration. Since 1 January 2006, the Electronic Customs Tariff (ECT) has been available to you free of charge via the Internet as “electronic customs tarif”. It provides important information for the correct determination of the relevant goods number. In addition, other important information can be drawn from it. In the following we would like to give you an initial overview of the application.

What is the Electronic Customs Tariff information application?

The German Electronic Customs Tariff application is an IT-supported information system and the first point of contact for you when it comes to correctly determining the customs tariff number of your goods. The application basically contains all relevant information you will need with regard to the customs classification of your goods. The system comprises all the provisions of both EU and national law that are decisive for customs treatment. With regard to the provisions of EU law, the Electronic Customs Tariff includes in particular the information from the Combined Nomenclature and the data from TARIC (Tariff Intégré des Communautés Européennes, Integrated Tariff of the European Community). The Combined Nomenclature and TARIC will then be supplemented by national data, such as import turnover taxes and other excise duties.

You can find the application itself at this URL. The entry page looks like this:

How is the Electronic Customs Tariff structured?

When dealing with the Electronic Customs Tariff, a systematic approach is recommended step by step. It is certainly helpful to know that the electronic customs tariff consists essentially of two parts.

Part One: Combined Nomenclature

In this respect, the first part is the Combined Nomenclature already mentioned at the beginning. The Combined Nomenclature contains the concrete code numbers of the goods, descriptions of the goods and, time and again, references to attached footnotes. The current nomenclature comprises about 5,000 finely divided, different product groups, which are identified by a six-digit code and have been brought into a legal and logical structure according to binding rules. The nomenclature is currently divided into 21 sections and 99 chapters, which in turn designate the product groups in the subitems. To get an initial overview of the customs tariff scheme, it is helpful to know that it is basically structured according to the “production principle”. This means that at the beginning of the nomenclature there are more raw materials, intermediate products are listed in the middle and finished goods are found at the end.

Part Two: Measures

The second main part of the tariff is the so-called action part. The measures section contains, for each product individually and specifically, references to any prohibitions and restrictions and to the level of the rates of duty. You can display these tasks for a specific date, even retroactively and historically.

The action section is preceded by a general section containing important notes, preliminary remarks and special provisions for the various product groups. Exact determination of the relevant goods tariff number can be difficult under certain circumstances. As a tool for interpreting the provisions of the Combined Nomenclature and TARIC, extensive explanations are therefore available to you, some of which you can also call up directly via the Electronic Customs Tariff application.

Tip: The information contained in the Electronic Customs Tariff should be read carefully and thoroughly. The incorrect classification of your goods could result in high additional tax demands or possibly also consequences under criminal tax law

Example: Classification ladies’ coat

We would like to illustrate the structure and the systematics of the Combined Nomenclature once again using the following example of the classification of a ladies’ coat:

  • Sections
    (e.g. Textiles – Section XI)
  • Chapter, if necessary also subchapters
    (e.g. Clothing made of fabrics – Chapter 62)
  • Positions
    (e.g. coats for women – Position 6202)
  • Subheadings
    (e.g. woollen coats for women – subheading 6202 11)

How does the customs tariff help me determine the correct tariff number?

The electronic customs tariff can now be useful to you in several ways. First of all, it supports you with the general tariffing of your goods. The electronic customs tariff allows you to generate an 11-digit code number for import and an 8-digit code number for export of goods. Since goods may be subject to different customs duties, tariff quotas, restrictions and measures when they are imported or exported, the electronic customs tariff-online application already offers you the possibility to distinguish between the import and export of goods on its homepage. The classification process is supported by various text documents (e.g. explanations of the Combined Nomenclature, notes on the section).

These notes are very important for you and should be read carefully, because often goods and products can be classified into two different product groups at first sight, but in fact only one classification can always be correct under customs law.

When determining the 11-digit code number for the import of goods, the basis of this number is the Harmonised System (HS), managed by the World Customs Organisation, which results in the first six digits of the tariff number. Digits seven and eight of the code number are allocated by the European Union. The relevant customs duties, prohibitions, restrictions and import permit facts can already be assigned on the basis of these eight offices during import clearance. Digits nine and ten of your tariff number are taken from the aforementioned TARIC and represent encrypted EU measures, such as anti-dumping regulations, tariff suspensions or tariff quotas. 11 digits are allocated by the national authorities and are also used exclusively for national purposes. The last digit is an encryption of VAT rates. However, it may also depict national prohibitions and restrictions.

Since the electronic customs tariff basically displays all relevant measures and information regarding your goods, the online application is a practical way for you to calculate customs and excise duties in advance.

Export of goods

The same applies to the export of goods as stated for importation, with the difference that the goods tariff number is exclusively eight digits.

User Manual for the German Customs Tariff

Since it can be difficult to keep track of the application when using the electronic customs tarifff or the first time, we would like to point out that the German customs administration regularly publishes a corresponding user manual for the electronic customs tariff. The manual is clearly arranged and contains helpful operating overviews and detailed explanations of the individual control panels of the electronic customs tariff. You can download the current user manual directly from the following link: https://www.wuerzburg.ihk.de/fileadmin/user_upload/pdf/user_manual_ezt_online.pdf

Information provided by the electronic tariff is not legally binding

As already explained, the electronic customs tariff is based, among other things, on data from the European Union’s TARIC. These data are updated daily in Brussels and then made available to the national customs administrations every working day. The basis for the import and export of goods can therefore change on a daily basis, which is usually a reaction to changes in the political or economic situation of the European Union.

The respective changes are then entered centrally in the information system by the electronic customs tariff editorial office, i.e. the General Customs Administration in Bonn, supplemented by national regulations and data and subsequently transmitted to all customs authorities in Germany.

It is important to know at this point that the electronic customs tariff does not constitute a binding legal basis for the import and export of goods.

The application should only be a first source and does not replace consulting

It also emerges from the electronic customs tariff itself that it makes no claim to correctness and can therefore merely represent a non-binding source of information. Relevant information can be found both in the imprint of the electronic customs tariff and in a separate disclaimer of the Directorate General of Customs. The Directorate-General of Customs expressly states that it does not guarantee that all information and data in the electronic customs tariff is always up-to-date, correct and complete. In 1989, the European Court of Justice also ruled on the non-binding nature of the national information databases.

From the above it can be concluded that the electronic customs tariff is particularly suitable for the initial determination and research of the relevant commodity tariff number of goods. The main purpose of the application is to get an initial overview. However, before bindingly registering goods for import or export under the number determined, it is strongly recommended to take a look at the relevant EU regulations. Only these regulations can guarantee their content in this respect and thus provide a binding legal basis.

Tip: Searching for the right tariff number in the electronic customs tariff-Online can become a search for the famous needle in a haystack. If you regularly import or export similar goods, the application for a free binding customs tariff information (BTI) may be advisable for you.

Lawyer Dr. Tristan Wegner

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T +49 (0) 40 / 36 96 15 0
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