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Classification of Parts and Accessories for Import Customs

Excerpts from an article by Matt Nakachi of the George R. Tuttle Law Offices in San Francisco

If your merchandise is being entered under a 'parts' or 'accessories' classification, be careful; that may be incorrect and could cause problems on a Customs audit. We can help.

Importers have a legal responsibility to exercise reasonable care when classifying merchandise and making entry under the Customs Modernization Act of 1993. For assistance in classifying your merchandise, please contact us.

On March 5, 2002, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed an important "parts and accessories" decision by the Court of International Trade in Rollerblade v. U.S., Slip op. 01-1049.

Rollerblade, Inc. imported protective gear designed, tested, manufactured, and marketed expressly for use with in-line roller skates. On entry, the company classified the protective gear as an "accessory" to its in-line skates under subheading 9506,70.2090, free of duty. Customs rejected the "accessory" claim and re-classified the protective gear as residual "other" sports equipment under subheading 9506.99.6080 at a duty rate of 4% ad valorem. Rollerblade protested the change in classification, but Customs denied the protest. Rollerblade then contested the denial of the protest before the Court of International Trade, arguing that Customs erred in its interpretation of the scope of the term "accessory".

In affirming Customs' classification of the protective gear, the Court of International Trade said that the dictionary definition of the term "accessory" restricted the term to items that relate "of" or "to" the main article with which they are used. The Court concluded the protective gear did not satisfy the definition required to be considered "accessories" of the in-line skates because they did not bear a direct relationship to the skates; the protective gear fastened to the person, not the skates. The Court further noted that the protective gear was only related to the activity of skating, and not the skates themselves and determined they were, therefore, properly classified under the residual "other" sports equipment provision in subheading 9506.99.

On appeal, Rollerblade argued the protective gear might constitute a "part". The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit however, defined a "part" as "an essential element or constituent integral portion of the whole, but which can be separated, replaced, etc". Webster's New World Dictionary 984 (3d College Ed. 1988). The Court concluded that the term "part", like the term "accessory", must have a direct relationship to the primary article, rather than to the general activity in which the primary article is used.

Like Rollerblade, some importers and brokers often classify imported articles under a provision for parts and accessories for the article with which they are used. Under the Rollerblade decision, however, this classification may be incorrect unless the imported article relates directly to the main article with which it is intended to be used, or is an essential element to the article with which it will be used, but which can be separated and/or replaced. If the imported merchandise does not meet this test, then it is likely that the article should be classified elsewhere.

If you are not sure if your merchandise is being properly classified, please contact us by clicking on this link and we will be glad to assist you in determining proper classification.

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