The WCO commemorates the 30th Anniversary of the Harmonized System Convention

A special commemoration session celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Harmonized System (HS) Convention was held in Brussels on 6th March 2018 at the beginning of the 61st Session of the HS Committee, with around 150 representatives from Member administrations, international organizations, invited guests and the WCO Secretariat.

The Secretary General, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, in his keynote speech, welcomed participants to the session and congratulated the HS Committee on the 30th anniversary of the HS. He stressed the importance of the HS as the flagship product of the WCO and as a universal language for international trade. He gave a review of the long history of the development of a common nomenclature around the world, first as a Customs tariff for revenue collection and then as a multi-purpose tool for a wide range of uses beyond Customs domain. He highlighted its uses including international trade statistics, WTO market-access negotiations, trade facilitation and enforcement, protection of the civil society, commercial policies and economic growth.

Looking back on the 30 years of the HS, the Secretary General noted its remarkable achievements and success stories, indicating that the number of Contracting Parties to the HS Convention has significantly grown from 4 in 1985 to 156 today. The HS is used by more than 200 countries and Economic and/or Customs Unions covering around 98% of world trade. 

He commended the work of the HS Committee (HSC), through its 60 sessions since 1988, with the support of the Review Sub-Committee and Scientific Sub-Committee, which has produced 6 editions of HS amendments and developed various instruments to keep the HS up-to-date and responsive to current needs, having discussed 4 144 agenda items and made 2 280 classification decisions to ensure uniform application of classification at global level. 

Sharing his vision for the future of the HS, the Secretary General stated that its importance is set to continue to increase over the years to come and encouraged Members of the WCO and other stakeholders to meet the challenges of uniform application of the latest edition of the HS and the HSC classification decisions, issuing advance rulings, speeding up the HS decision-making process and dispute settlement, rendering the HS more business-friendly, using technology and further harmonization with other classification systems. 

Mr. Ronald Jansen from the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), in his video presentation titled “Trade Statistics and the HS”, highlighted the successful use of the HS by the statistical agencies as the principle tool of international trade statistics. He recounted the cooperative work between the organizations over the years to meet the challenge of aligning the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) with the HS amendments and expressed his appreciation for the support by the WCO. 

The representative of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Mr. Philippe Denier, in his presentation, referred to how the HS has helped in the important work of fighting against chemical weapons by providing the HS codes for OPCW scheduled chemicals. He thanked the WCO for its continued cooperation with the OPCW and highlighted that the HS has played an important role in identifying and monitoring the trade of controlled substances.

As a former Chairperson of HSC, and former WCO Secretariat official, Mr. Alvaro L. Ribeiro, auditor of the Federal Revenue Brazil, based on his long-term experiences, shared the inside view of the workings of the HS as a tool for facilitation and control as well as being in tune with commercial reality. He also shared his experience in implementing the HS in his country and in working co-operatively with other Portuguese-speaking countries for a common nomenclature in Portuguese.

Mr. Carlos Halasz, the representative of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), addressed the impact of the HS on trade in information technology products. He emphasized the critical role the HS has played in the WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA) and the importance of the WCO’s updating of the HS to take into account the rapid changes in technology. He also offered his thoughts on how the HS could continue to contribute to trade facilitation of new IT products in the future.

Moderating the extraordinary session, Mr. Ping Liu, WCO Director for Tariff and Trade Affairs, invited all WCO Members and other stakeholders, based on the excellent work already done, to take stock of the achievements and lessons learnt from the past 30 years regarding the HS and to reflect on possible innovative ways to ensure that the HS serves its objectives in a constantly changing environment. He also paid tribute to the generations after generations of men and women, represented by former Chairpersons and Secretariat staff, for their outstanding contribution to the development and maintenance of the HS on which basis the current work builds.