AGOA - Introductory guide to product barcodes in international trade

Trade Law Centre (tralac)
Publication Date
26 April 2023

Barcodes are machine readable graphic symbols combined with a byline of equivalent numbers, that are used to encode an identification number relating to a product, and which can then be scanned electronically. Today barcodes are an essential requirement in many areas of business and logistics, and are generally a minimum requirement for products that are put up for retail sale. Barcodes, such as the 12 and 13-digit formats commonly used for retail purposes around the world, were developed in the 1970s to make business processes more efficient, and have been in common use ever since.

Barcodes are today managed primarily through a global organisation called GS1, which resulted from a co-operation agreement between the original United States barcode authority (Uniform Code Council - UCC) and the European Article Numbering Association (EAN). While GS1 is the recognized industry authority, barcodes can also be acquired through an extensive reseller network (different options and implications are discussed overleaf).

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