Terms & Glossaries of Shipping and Trading

BTN (Brussels Tariff Nomenclature)

Brussels Tariff Nomenclature (BTN), also known as the Brussels Tariff System, is a historical classification system for goods used in international trade to standardize the identification of products for customs and tariff purposes. The BTN system was a precursor to the more widely adopted Harmonized System (HS), which is currently used worldwide.

Detailed Overview of "BTN (Brussels Tariff Nomenclature)"

What is BTN (Brussels Tariff Nomenclature)?

Brussels Tariff Nomenclature (BTN) refers to an international system for classifying goods in international trade, developed to provide a common language for tariff and trade-related purposes. It was created to facilitate international trade by ensuring that goods were consistently classified, allowing for uniform application of tariffs and duties across different countries.

Key Characteristics of Brussels Tariff Nomenclature

1. Standardization: Provided a standardized classification system for goods, enabling consistent identification and tariff application.
2. Categorization: Goods were categorized based on their nature, composition, and intended use, with each category assigned a specific code.
3. International Adoption: Adopted by many countries as a basis for their customs tariff schedules.
4. Historical Significance: Played a crucial role in the evolution of international trade classification systems, leading to the development of the Harmonized System (HS).

History and Development of BTN

1. Origins: The BTN was developed in the mid-20th century under the auspices of the Customs Cooperation Council (now the World Customs Organization, WCO) in Brussels.
2. Implementation: Many countries adopted the BTN as their primary system for classifying goods and determining tariffs.
3. Transition to HS: In 1988, the BTN was largely replaced by the Harmonized System (HS), which provided a more comprehensive and detailed classification structure. The HS system was developed to build on the foundation laid by the BTN, offering more detailed descriptions and facilitating easier updates and adaptations to new products and technologies.

Structure of the Brussels Tariff Nomenclature

1. Classification Codes: Goods were assigned specific codes based on their characteristics. These codes were used to identify the products in tariff schedules.
2. Sections and Chapters: The BTN was divided into sections and chapters, each covering a broad category of goods. For example, one section might cover textiles, while another might cover machinery.
3. Detailed Listings: Within each chapter, goods were further broken down into more specific categories, with detailed descriptions and codes for individual products.

Impact and Importance of BTN

1. Facilitation of Trade: By providing a common language for classifying goods, the BTN helped to reduce misunderstandings and disputes in international trade.
2. Uniform Tariff Application: Enabled countries to apply tariffs more consistently and fairly, reducing the risk of trade distortions.
3. Foundation for HS: The BTN's structure and approach served as a foundation for the development of the Harmonized System, which continues to be used globally.

Transition to the Harmonized System (HS)

1. Need for Improvement: The BTN was effective but had limitations in terms of detail and adaptability to new products. The growing complexity of international trade necessitated a more detailed and flexible system.
2. Development of HS: The Harmonized System was developed to address these needs, offering a more comprehensive and adaptable framework for classifying goods.
3. Adoption of HS: The HS system was adopted by the WCO member countries in 1988 and has since become the global standard for trade classification.


The Brussels Tariff Nomenclature (BTN) played a pivotal role in the history of international trade classification. It provided a standardized system that facilitated trade, ensured consistent tariff application, and laid the groundwork for the more detailed and adaptable Harmonized System (HS) that is in use today. While the BTN is no longer in active use, its legacy lives on through the HS, which continues to support global trade by providing a common language for classifying goods and determining tariffs. Understanding the BTN's contributions helps appreciate the evolution of international trade systems and the ongoing efforts to streamline and standardize global trade practices.