HTS — is it a “part” or an “accessory”?

A recent discussion thread on the Customs Specialists LinkedIn group page offers guidance on the age old question pertaining to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS):  what constitutes a “part” or an “accessory”?

Although the posts do not (of course) definitively answer the question, the discussion thread provides helpful points to consider when evaluating this issue.

For example, a couple of commenters suggest their own rules of thumb for this inquiry:

  • “…I have always applied the guide that for an item to be classified as a part, the item of which it is a part must not be capable of operating as intended without the presence of the ‘part’. Additionally, the ‘part’ must not be capable of classification as an item in its own right – i.e., as a non-part …. Of course, there are exceptions, but this rule of thumb holds good in most circumstances, and is reasonably easy for engineering departments to follow….”
  • “…1.) Has it been made especially for x machine? No: classify it as specific product, yes: go to 2. 2.) Is it excluded from being a ‘part of’ according to the [HTS] Notes (like screws, motors, etc)? Yes: classify it as specific product. No: check the comments on the chapters to be sure.”

Others cite case law on this topic.  For instance, one commenter references Honda of America Manufacturing v. United States, a case from 2009, in which the Court of International Trade held that a specialized “oil bolt”, designed for use in automobiles, was still classifiable as a run-of-the-mill bolt under Heading 7318, and was not a “part” or “accessory” of the automobile. ”

Still other commenters provide guidance from other countries.  In India, “the principle applied by the courts is that a ‘part’ is something that is necessary for the funcionting of the product; while an ‘accessory’ provides convenience in use or promotes better [utilization] of the product.”  Other citations include an memorandum on classification of parts and accessories from Canada Customs and a link to a Federal Court Judgment in an Australian case.  Finally, a commenter mentions a 2007 decision by the European Court of Justice, which held that an ink cartridge was not part of a printer, but rather “ink.”

Given the unsettled and often conflicting opinions on this topic, US importers and exporters should follow the advice of one commenter:  “Your best bet is to send to CBP [a request for] a binding ruling if you will be shipping these goods regularly.”

The Customs Specialists LinkedIn group page is available here (membership required).

One thought on “HTS — is it a “part” or an “accessory”?”

  1. A recent decision by the European Court of Justice, Unomedical A/S v Skatteministeriet (June 2011), held that plastic drainage bags intended for use with catheters and dialysers were not accessories of these medical devices but rather were “freestanding” plastic bags classifiable as standalone items and subject to duties.

    Specifically, the ECJ ruled that neither of the drainage bags was an ‘accessory’ considering that the “bags do not enable the instruments or apparatus to be adapted for a particular operation, nor do they increase the range of those operations, or enable them to perform a particular service connected to the main function”.

    Learn more on the LinkedIn Customs Specialists group page (membership required).

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