GSP and Sets

Here’s a question. Assume pots and pans from Thailand individually qualify for duty-free entry into the United States under the Generalized System of Preferences (“GSP”). That means they have 35% of their value derived from Thai-origin materials or costs and are shipped directly from Thailand to the U.S. So far, so good. Now assume that glass lids for the pots and pans are added to the imported goods and those lids are from China, which is not a GSP-eligible country. Do the pots and pans continue to qualify for duty-free entry under GSP or is the entire set disqualified due to the presence of the lids from China?

That is the question presented in Meyer Corporation US v. United States. The tricky thing about this situation is keeping separate tariff classification rules, entry documentation, and GSP eligibility. The classification of the pots and pans plus the lids is controlled by the General Rule of Interpretation 3(b), under which the retail set is assigned a single classification based on the one item in the set that imparts the essential character. In this case, that was the pots and pans. As a result of this rule, the entire retail set is usually assigned a single rate of duty.

Following a 1991 Treasury Decision (T.D. 91-7), Customs argued that the 35% value-added test must be applied to the entire set, including the lids. According to Customs, the mere packaging of the lids with the pots and pans was not sufficient to substantially transform them into articles of Thailand, making them count against the 35% requirement.

Rather than focus on the Treasury Decision, the Court of International Trade looked at the GSP statute. In 19 U.S.C. 2463, Congress extended GSP benefits to “any eligible article which is the growth, product, or manufacture of a beneficiary developing country” if that article satisfies the other statutory requirements. The pots and pans, individually, are eligible articles. The set, as a whole, is not.

According to the Court, the GSP statute extends to the individual articles that make up the contents of the set, not the set itself. The fact that GRI 3(b) produces a single rate of duty applicable to the retail set does not collapse the contents of the set into a single article for GSP purposes. Thus, the pots and pans arguably retain their individual GSP status. That is the legal conclusion. Whether the facts establish that to be true or not, is not decided in this preliminary decision.

There are other related issues to be settled. For example, if the pots and pans get duty-free status under GSP, does that mean that the lids are dutiable as products of China? If so, at what rate, is the rate applicable to the pots and pans, which provide the essential character, or at the rate applicable to glass lids from China? The Court did not resolve that and noted that further briefing is necessary to do so.

Next, the plaintiff asserted that the proper valuation for purposes of entry and, therefore, the GSP calculation should be the sale price of the lids from the Chinese manufacturer to the company in Thailand. This is the first-sale valuation under Nissho Iwai (Fed. Cir. 1992). To determine whether the first sale is a bona fide sale for purposes of appraisal, Customs looks to the level of profitability of the “firm.” In this case, CBP treated the firm as the parent of the importer. There is a debatable question of whether that is a reasonable data point for comparison. The Court also noted that the first sale might be influenced by China’s status as a non-market economy. In the end, the Court determined that there are not sufficient facts available to make a decision on this point.

As a result, the Court ordered the parties to confer and propose how to proceed.

The legal decision here should not be lost in the details. This case holds that combining GSP-eligible and non-GSP-eligible items in a retail set does not strip the benefit of the GSP from the eligible articles in the set. That is the takeaway and is big if it holds up on appeal.

There is a practical question of how entry will be made. A footnote in the decision discusses the possibility of separate line items or even separate entries of the items within the set. The resolution of that also remains to be seen. But, keep in mind that the contents of retail sets must be itemized on the entry anyway. This is the X/V reporting requirement contained in the instructions (see page 14) for completing the 7501. One would assume that adding the A prefix to the HTSUS number at the V-line level would take care of that (if more than one Special Program Indicator can be applied). If not, a new SPI covering both V and A might need to be added to the system.

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