Silk Roads and Data Mountains: HS22 Signals the Emergence of Global Trade as Information

How the evolving Harmonized System (HS) and its 2022 revision are creating a single ocean of pure information on which the entire global trading economy can float.

By Gilberto García-Vazquez

Trade is tracked in currency, distances, weight, origins and destinations but also as individual goods and services. In 2022, the value of Global trade was $23.7 trillion. But in reality, that huge number is just a single data point for a gigantic multidimensional information space that requires an agreed upon language: the Harmonized System (HS) Nomenclature. Developed by the World Customs Organization, the HS classifies over a million products, streamlining regulation, policy, and trend analysis. As trade complexity grows, the quality of the information defined by the HS is essential for global trade efficiency and transparency.

The 2022 HS Nomenclature update addresses key economic and global shifts, adapting to technological and environmental demands. New categories for products such as solar water heaters, e-cigarettes, fentanyl, and industrial robots have been added. This expansion improves regulatory accuracy, policy development, and environmental protection measures. Comparable to an authoritative dictionary in standardizing language, this HS update keeps global trade communication relevant and streamlined, helping countries and industries manage modern trade complexities.

Enhanced Overview of Major Changes in HS 2022

Here's an in-depth look at the major changes in the 2022 revision. See how the revised HS Nomenclature meticulously updates, defines and introduces new categories to better align with technology change, environmental urgency and other shifts in global economics.

3D Printers: The establishment of heading 8485 and subsequent subheadings for additive manufacturing machines (3D printers) with several materials, such as plastics, cement, and composites acknowledges that the 3D printer has passed its “Gutenberg Moment” and become a transformative technology across industries.º

Cold Isostatic Presses: Subheading 847983 spotlights the crucial role of high-pressure technology, notably Cold Isostatic Pressing (CIP). CIP compacts powders into dense solids at room temperature, perfect for heat-sensitive ceramics, metallurgy, and composites.

Industrial Robots: Recognizing the pivotal role of automation, subheading 842870 has been created for industrial robots, facilitating their trade and regulation due to their dual-use potential. In 2022 the top exporters of Industrial robots  were Japan, China, and Mexico.

Hybrid and electric delivery vehicles: New subheadings have been created for hybrid semi trucks and trucks, and fully electric delivery vehicles, emphasizing the shift towards greener transportation options.

Solar Water Heaters: The creation of subheading 841912 specifically for solar water heaters reflects a focus on renewable energy technologies. The global solar water heater market size is expected to reach approximately USD 3.49 billion in 2024.

Electronic Waste (E-Waste): Introducing specific codes for e-waste products such as smartphones and tablets enhances the monitoring of recycling and proper disposal of these items. This enables monitoring their full lifecycle environmental impact. In 2019, about 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste were produced globally, with just 17.4% recycled. In 2022, Electrical and electronic waste were the world's 707th most traded product, with a total exports of USD 2.75 billion.

Aquatic Invertebrate Products: The introduction of subheading 030990 for products like crustaceans and mollusks fits human consumption, acknowledging the diversification in global food sources. Asia dominates aquaculture, contributing to 91.6 percent of the global exports of aquatic invertebrate products.

Edible Insects: An identification of edible non-living insects in new subheading 041010. The Edible Insects Market is expected to surge from $3.80 billion in 2024 to $9.04 billion by 2029, marking a CAGR of 18.89%. Globally, edible insects are embraced for their rich protein, healthy fats, minerals, and vitamins, propelling the market's growth.

African Cherry: African Cherry (Prunus africana) is prized for its medicinal bark but faces threats from over-harvesting. Extensive bark removal harms tree populations, leading to higher death rates, reduced reproduction, and weak seedling growth, risking the species' future. The goal is to improve trade regulations to foster conservation and sustainable practices, ensuring the species' survival.

Fentanyl: The classification of fentanyl within public health frameworks helps manage its trade and usage, given its extreme toxicity —up to 50 times that of heroin. Two subheadings are added (293334 and 293492) for addressing the opioid black market and reducing the number of overdose deaths.

Vaping Products: A new HS code heading 8543 that spotlights the shift in consumer preferences and regulatory landscapes concerning vaping. The global e-cigarette trade value was approximately $7.5 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow significantly.

Placebos and Blinded Clinical Trial Kits: The HS 2022 update adds subheading 300693 to vaccines for placebos and blinded clinical trial kits, streamlining their classification away from broad categories like foodstuffs, medicaments, and chemicals. This enhances transparency and simplifies regulation for these clinical research essentials.​​

This breakdown of the HS 2022 revision is just a sample of how the system of standard language and categories is enabling adaptability to current trends and emerging requirements. By refining classifications for environmental protection, health and safety, technological advancements, and food security, the HS Nomenclature has become an agent of safety, efficiency and international cooperation for making sustainable international trade a key component of a peaceful and prosperous world.

The World Customs Organization estimates that implementing the HS 2022 revision would reduce global trade costs by up to 17.5% and enhance the accuracy of trade statistics.

Through this lens of economics merged with global policy, the HS Nomenclature emerges as a common library for achieving a knowledge and information driven sustainable and innovative future. Policymakers and businesses alike will rely on this increasingly important tool to see opportunities in the complexities of modern trade and to make responsible and viable choices to leverage and accelerate green growth.

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