CLA-2 RR:CR:GC 967087 AML
Mr. Kenneth G. Weigel
Alston & Bird LLP
601 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
North Building, 10th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20004-2601
Re: Classification of “Thermostar” thermal printing plates
Dear Mr. Weigel:
This is in response to your letter, dated March 2, 2004, on behalf of AFGA Corporation, requesting a classification ruling, under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated (“HTSUSA”), of “Thermostar” thermal printing plates. Technical literature was submitted for our consideration. Also considered were the arguments made at a meeting held on May 3, 2004 as well as those made in your supplemental submission dated May 14, 2004.
The articles at issue are printing press plates for an offset printing press for use in what is called digital printing. The Thermostar plates use a two-layer technology for the creation of images. The base of the Thermostar plate is made of an aluminum substrate comprised of electrochemically grained and anodized aluminum, manufactured to exact tolerances to enhance lithographic performance. The first coating layer is a hydrophobic polymer that is insensitive to light of any wavelength. The second layer is a thermo-sensitive coating that is less than a micron thick and is highly sensitive to infrared light. You state that following importation, “during the image creation process, the top layer undergoes a heat-induced conversion as a high-powered laser generates temperatures as high as 400° C (hence the name thermal imaging) that removes part of the plate leaving the image to be printed. The articles are used in the offset printing industry.
In your initial and supplemental submissions and at the meeting you argued that previous rulings concerning similar articles are wrongly decided and should be reconsidered, that the relevant Explanatory Notes are contradictory and should not be dispositive in the classification of the Thermostar plates, and that because the Thermostar plates produce a latent (as opposed to visible) image, they cannot be classified as photosensitive plates under heading 3701, HTSUSA.
Whether the Thermostar printing plates are classifiable under heading 3701, HTSUSA, which provides for, among other things, photographic plates, or under heading 8442, HTSUSA, which provides for, among other things, printing plates?
LAW and ANALYSIS:
Classification of imported merchandise is accomplished pursuant to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated (“HTSUSA”). Classification under the HTSUS is guided by the General Rules of Interpretation of the Harmonized System (“GRIs”). GRI 1, HTSUSA, states in part that “for legal purposes, classification shall be determined according to the terms of the headings and any relative section or chapter notes[.]”
The applicable HTSUSA provisions under consideration are as follows:
3701 Photographic plates and film in the flat, sensitized, unexposed, of any material other than paper, paperboard or textiles; instant print film in the flat, sensitized, unexposed, whether or not in packs:
3701.30.00 Other plates and film, with any side exceeding 255 mm
* * *
8442 Machinery, apparatus and equipment (other than the machine tools of headings 8456 to 8465), for type-founding or typesetting, for preparing or making printing blocks, plates, cylinders or other printing components; printing type, blocks, plates, cylinders and other printing components; blocks, plates, cylinders and lithographic stones, prepared for printing purposes (for example, planed, grained or polished); parts thereof:
8442.50 Printing type, blocks, plates, cylinders and other printing components; locks, plates, cylinders and lithographic stones, prepared for printing purposes (for example, planed, grained or polished):
As you acknowledge in your submission, Headquarters Ruling Letters (“HQ”) 965726, dated September 19, 2002 and HQ 950301, dated March 10, 1992 (copies enclosed), address Customs and Border Protection’s (“CBP’s”) position on the classification of digital printing plates substantially similar to those under consideration.
See also New York Ruling Letters (“NY”) I84363, dated August 12, 2002, NY I84119, dated August 9, 2002, NY C88253, dated June 19, 1998, and NY 899348, dated July 21, 1994. In HQ 950301, “aluminum plates that have been anodized and grained and coated with photosensitive material which are photographically imaged and then used as printing plates” were classified under heading 3701, HTSUSA, which provides for, among other things, photographic plates.
We have carefully reviewed the prior rulings and concluded that they are correct. You argue at page 5 of your original submission (after acknowledging the exclusion following EN 84.42(A) which provides that sensitized plates are excluded from Chapter 84 and that they should be classified under heading 3701, HTSUSA) that “this same exclusion does not appear anywhere in the legal notes to the HTSUS.” While an exclusion similar to that in the EN does not appear, consideration of Note 2 to Chapter 37 buttresses CBP’s position:
2. In this chapter the word “photographic” relates to the process by which visible images are formed, directly or indirectly, by the action of light or other forms of radiation on photosensitive surfaces.
You state and the technical literature you forwarded provides that images are made on the sensitized plates “using infrared laser diode imaging systems operating at 830 nm.” The infrared laser diode uses light to create the images.
Under the topic “How lasers work” at the website “Howstuffworks.com” the following information is provided:
A laser is a device that controls the way that energized atoms release photons. "Laser" is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, which describes very succinctly how a laser works.
Although there are many types of lasers, all have certain essential features. In a laser, the lasing medium is “pumped” to get the atoms into an excited state. Typically, very intense flashes of light or electrical discharges pump the lasing medium and create a large collection of excited-state atoms (atoms with higher-energy electrons). It is necessary to have a large collection of atoms in the excited state for the laser to work efficiently. In general, the atoms are excited to a level that is two or three levels above the ground state. This increases the degree of population inversion. The population inversion is the number of atoms in the excited state versus the number in ground state.
Once the lasing medium is pumped, it contains a collection of atoms with some electrons sitting in excited levels. The excited electrons have energies greater than the more relaxed electrons. Just as the electron absorbed some
amount of energy to reach this excited level, it can also release this energy. As the figure below illustrates, the electron can simply relax, and in turn rid itself of some energy. This emitted energy comes in the form of photons (light energy). The photon emitted has a very specific wavelength (color) that depends on the state of the electron's energy when the photon is released. Two identical atoms with electrons in identical states will release photons with identical wavelengths.
[Bold emphasis in original.]
The Thermostar plates react to laser light. It is the intense and precise light produced by the laser diode that results both in the production of heat and the precise images that the plates are designed to produce.
Thus, given the exclusion set forth in EN 84.42; given the fact that the Thermostar plates are sensitized to react to laser light/radiation, and given CBP’s prior treatment of substantially similar articles as set forth above, we conclude that the Thermostar plates are classified under heading 3701, HTSUSA. Accordingly, we incorporate the LAW AND ANALYSIS section of the prior rulings cited above in this decision, as they are dispositive of the issues you raise in your ruling request.
The Thermostar printing plates, if any side exceeds 255mm, are classifiable under subheading 3701.30.00.00, HTSUSA, which provides for “photographic plates and film in the flat, sensitized, unexposed, of any material other than paper, paperboard or textiles; instant print film in the flat, sensitized, unexposed, whether or not in packs: other plates and film, with any side exceeding 255 mm; or under subheading 3701.99.60.60, HTSUSA, which provides for those articles with sides that do not exceed 255mm. The 2004 general column 1 duty rate for both subheadings is 3.7% ad valorem.
Duty rates are provided for your convenience and are subject to change. The text of the most recent HTSUS and the accompanying duty rates are provided on the World Wide Web at www.usitc.gov.
Myles B. Harmon, Director
Commercial Rulings Division