If you import Christmas- related items, you are probably heartened when you first see US Harmonized Tariff Heading 9505 which covers, in part: “Festive, carnival or other entertainment articles . . .; parts and accessories thereof;” and specifically, Subheading 9505.10, “Articles for Christmas festivities and parts and accessories thereof:”. These are duty-free classifications when the alternative HTS categorizations can and do impose heavy tariff rates.
Well, as one senior lawyer for whom I once worked sagely said, “in law or fact, never assume anything”.
For whatever reasons, CBP has worked to narrow the scope of allowable articles under the “Festive” subheadings of Heading 9505. While most decorative items that are dedicated to use for Christmas, Halloween or another holiday remain so classified, others do not earn “festive” status. Thus, an acrylic lighted angel decoration ends up in Chapter 39 (See Ruling K83615 (Mar. 18, 2004); a Christmas Snow Globe with a seated Santa Claus in in Chapter 92 (See Ruling L82366, Feb. 26,2005); and a stuffed decorative “Holiday” gnome is classified in Chapter 63.
One of the more surprising recent cases is Rubies Costume Co. v. United States, 2018-1305 (Fed. Cir. April 29 2019). The importer brought in a nine-piece Santa suit consisting of a jacket, pants, gloves, a toy sack, a beard, a wig, a hat, a belt, and shoe covers. Customs, and the Court of International Trade, had rejected importer’s claim that pieces of a Santa suit, imported individually, were classifiable under HTS 9505 as “festive articles”. Finding that the parts to the suit exhibited characteristics of parts of normal wearing apparel, the appellate court upheld the classification of the jacket, pants and gloves under HTS Chapter 61 and the toy sack under Chapter 42. The conclusion that these could be used as parts of wearing apparel and were otherwise without holiday embellishment were central to the Court’s decision.
What do we learn from the rulings and court cases? Be very careful that an item designed for holiday use, including Christmas, does not have multiple alternative uses. CBP has published an Informed Compliance Publication on the “Classification of Textile Costumes under the USHTS” which is available online at www.cbp.gov. But also, check applicable rulings in the searchable online CROSS system, certainly consider applying for your own binding classification ruling and when it comes to what you believe are festive articles, “Never assume anything!”
Robin W Grover