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International Trade Statistics: Classifications

Guidance in selecting sources of foreign trade data.

trade & industry classifications

The two principal commodity classification systems in use today for international trade data are the Harmonized System (HS) and the Standard  International Trade Classification (SITC).  The HS is a 6 digit classification which provides a more detailed list of commodities than the longstanding 5 digit SITC developed by the United Nations.  The HS has been expanded to as many as 10 digits by the United States government to provide even greater detail about U.S. trade.  Another commodity classification is the Combined Nomenclature (CN) an 8 digit system used by the European Union similar to the expanded HS used in the U.S. 

Commodity classification systems are subject to ongoing additions as well as major revisions.   As a result the availability of data about specific commodities may vary by time period and classification revision number.  Many of the data sources listed elsewhere in this guide provide a way to search for specific commodities.  The following are sites where you can access the principal classifications separately. 


U.S. Foreign Trade, Statistical Classification of Domestic and Foreign Commodities Exported from the United States, Schedule B (HS)

Used to classify U.S. exports and specify the applicable unit of quantity.  Essentially the same codes as used for U.S. imports since the adoption of the Harmonized System (1989-).


Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) of the United States: Annotated for Statistical Reporting Purposes and

Also available in print: (Map and Government Information Library: J84: ITC 1.10:)

Used to classify U.S. imports and provide tariff and unit of quantity information.  In trade data reports starting 1989 these are essentially the same codes as contained in "Schedule B" above used for exports.  Prior to the adoption of the Harmonized System (1989-) this document was entitled Tariff schedules of the United States annotated.


Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) Revision 4 and 2

SITC revision 2 may still also be used in statistical reports and databases. Also try searching for a pdf version in the United Nations Bibliographic Information System (UNBISNET).  For example, search for “standard international trade classification rev. 2”.

Commodity Indexes for the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) Revision 3 (volumes I & II: Map and Government Information Library)

The Commodity Indexes … for revision 2 are in the UN microfiche (Map and Government Information Library: UN ESA STAT Ser. M 38 Rev., VOLS. I & II).


Industry classification systems used in some reports:


North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)

NAICS is a production-based system for classifying industries for statistical purposes.  Trade data is sometimes tabulated by industry rather than commodity.  NAICS has largely superseded the SIC classification in official U.S. statistical publications.


Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Manual, 1987

Also available in print: (Main Reference: HF1042 .A55 1987) 

SIC is an establishment-based system for classifying industries for statistical purposes.  SIC is still widely used in business information resources and may still appear is some international trade sources.  However it is largely superseded by NAICS in official U.S. statistical publications.

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