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A tariff schedule is a full listing of goods that are available for import. It lists the products by type, along with the duty rates that are applicable for each. Most countries, including the United States, use the Harmonized Commodity Coding and Classification System, or simply "Harmonized System." This international system was established by the World Customs Organization (WCO).
The Harmonized System was developed to make trade between countries easier, and nearly all countries use this international system. The tariff schedule is organized by "chapters," which are numbered according the level of processing that goes into the product. The early chapters list animals, meats, dairy, and agricultural products, while later ones include wool, cotton, and wood based products. The final chapters include everything from toys to surgical equipment and furniture.
The tariff schedule of the United States is officially referred to as the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS). The U.S. Customs Service handles the collection of the tariffs from trading countries. The Census Bureau, at the U.S. Department of Commerce, keeps track of statistics relating to import and export, and publishes them for the public to view.
The Harmonized Tariff Schedule rates are determined by the president in consultation with Congress. The rates tend to remain relatively stable, with increases based on a given yearly rate. Countries are classified as "general" in column 1, which are free trade countries, "special" for countries under a special agreement, or "column 2" for countries with restricted trade. Rates can be as low as 0-3% for countries that have open trade, or as high as 70% or more for countries with restricted trade agreements.
In 2009, the WCO proposed significant changes to the Harmonized System. These changes are the outcome of five years of research and drafting to create a more comprehensive system for the modern age. The recommendation, which is slated to go into effect in 2012, includes 221 amendments. The amendments add category headings for items like controlled pesticides and technology, while removing obsolete headings for about 40 products that are no longer relevant to modern trade. Additionally, food protection amendments have been added to modernize food classification and security warnings in accordance with the Food Security Information for Action Programme of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.