U.S. Exports: A Guide to Classifying Products

Products going in and out of the United States are monitored for economic, statistical, and safety reasons.

Part of this is accomplished by requiring each shipment to be classified with a specific identification code. For imports, this is the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS or HTS), published and maintained by the U.S. International Trade Commission. For exports from the U.S., a Schedule B number can be used. Both are used to classify products to determine what tariffs should be applied. Both codes are based on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (also known as the “Harmonized System” or HS).

Schedule B and the Automated Export System

A Schedule B code is a four digit number added to the end of the HS code (resulting in a ten digit code). According to the International Trade Association (ITA):

Federal law requires that prior to international shipment, you may need to file your export transaction electronically. This electronic filing is referred to as Electronic Export Information (EEI filing) and is required when the value of the commodity classified under each individual Schedule B number is over $2,500, or if a validated export license is required.* The information about export transactions allow the U.S. Census Bureau to collect trade data on U.S. exports and to ensure compliance with U.S. export regulations. The EEI filing is submitted to the Automated Export System (AESDirect) hosted on the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) platform.

Companies that already use an HTS code for imported products may want to use the same classification for all their products to eliminate the need to classify these items twice—once under HTS and again under Schedule B. This is a common practice, however exporters should be mindful that there are certain HTS codes that are not allowed for exporting.

To help guarantee a classification has been correctly assigned, importers always have the option to apply for a Binding Ruling from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB). The agency will review and then assign classification (or valuation or country of origin). Keep in mind these determinations are binding and must be followed (though unfavorable decisions can be appealed).

Why is Filing Important?

AES is the primary system used by the U.S. Census Bureau to collect information on U.S. exports. The data becomes part of the statistics used to determine various economic indicators as well as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the U.S. economy.

As previously noted, exporters from the U.S. are now required to electronically file using AESDirect. The information filed is known as Electronic Export Information (EEI). By electronically filing export data, the Census Bureau says the government’s ability to monitor and block exports of critical goods and technologies can dramatically improve the nation’s security. The quality and timeliness of export statistics is greatly enhanced as well.

Who is Responsible for Filing EEI?

Submissions through the AES are often made by the U.S. Principal Part in Interest (USPPI), which is the person or entity in the U.S. who receives the primary benefit of the transaction. This is commonly the U.S. exporter, but it can also be submitted by an authorized agent of the USPPI. A U.S. agent of the Foreign Principal Party in Interest (FPPI), often the official receiver of the exported goods, can also submit the EEI. If the exporter or the foreign buyer is using another entity to file a submission through AES, written limited power of attorney or other written authorization must be provided.

Keep in mind that while the outsourcing of responsibility for filing with AES is allowed, liability is not also transferred. Parties should insist on proof the filing was properly executed.

What Are the Benefits of Using AES? 

Decrease Costs: System eliminates the cost of corrections with front-end data edits. Expenses are reduced by reporting export information electronically through this free web-based application.

Error Correction in Real Time: The AES generates a warning message to the filer when data are omitted, inconsistent, or incomplete.

Ensure Export Compliance: The AES returns an Internal Transaction Number (ITN) as confirmation export documentation has been successfully filed. The system also comes with an editing system that enables subsequent corrections when necessary.

Paper Review of Licenses Against Shipments Eliminated: Enables ability to electronically validate data on export shipments against previously approved licenses using an interface between the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) and Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC). Transaction is transmitted to the appropriate partnership agency.


Proper classification of exported items can save time and money. Using the tools and resources outlined in this article to identify the proper code can get exporters on the road (or air or sea) to success. It is a great first step. However, finding the right partner, such as an experienced, licensed customs broker, can help make that journey even smoother by providing valuable information that help avoid pitfalls along the way.

Other Resources

The U.S. Census Bureau offers a free online Schedule B search tool to help classify products. It is a good first step for classifying exports. The site also offers training and other resources to help identify Schedule B numbers.
For a video overview of How to Submit Your Electronic Export information.

Explanatory Notes: These are published by the World Customs Organization and are the organization’s official interpretation of the Harmonized System. Explanatory Notes can be an extremely useful resource for guidance in the classification process, but they are not considered legally binding. Additionally, one must purchase a copy or electronic access to the Explanatory Notes.

Customs Ruling Online Search System (CROSS): This is a free, online, searchable database of official U.S. Customs classification rulings. Rulings are available to view dating back to 1989. This system is extremely useful in verifying whether a classification is correct. It can also provide a starting point when one is completely uncertain where to begin with an unusual article. While U.S. Customs does change, modify, or revoke rulings from time to time, CROSS can be a wonderful source to cite as proof of the validity of certain classifications.

General Rules of Interpretation (GRIs): This is a set of rules that should be followed sequentially to determine proper classifications. To learn more about GRIs, read General Rules of Interpretation: How to Determine HTS Codes.

To help guarantee a classification has been correctly assigned, importers always have the option to apply for a Binding Ruling from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB). A Licensed Customs Broker can assist you in presenting an argument for a favorable ruling. CPB will review and then assign classification (or valuation or country of origin). Keep in mind these determinations are binding and must be followed (though unfavorable decisions can be appealed).

For a more general overview of HT and HTS codes, please read Why is Product Classification So Important?

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