CLA-2 CO:R:C:G 084960 DC

Ms. Rosalyn Alberdi
A.J. Arango, Inc.
P.O. Box 3007
Tampa, Florida 33601

RE: Tariff classification of leather attache cases

Dear Ms. Alberdi:

Your letter dated June 2, 1989, addressed to our New York office concerning the tariff classification of leather attache cases made in Taiwan, has been referred to this office for a direct reply to you. Samples were submitted for examination.


The attache case designated as style M142 is fitted on the inside with various stationery items such as a ruler, stapler, staples, pen, pencil and eraser, etc. The case designated as style 71D175 is empty. You have informed us that the outer surfaces of the attache cases are not coated. We have been informed by our chemists that the leather surfaces on these attache cases are covered with a polyurethane plastic coating that is 0.333 mm thick.


What material constitutes the outer surfaces of the attache cases?

Does the attache case fitted with various stationery items constitute a set for tariff purposes?


In applying the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated (HTSUSA), the Customs Service must follow the terms of the statute. Classification of goods under the HTSUSA is governed by the General Rules of Interpretation (GRI's).


GRI 1 provides that "classification shall be determined according to the terms of the headings and any relative section or chapter notes, and, provided such headings or notes do not otherwise require, according to [the remaining GRI's taken in order]. In other words, classification is governed first by the terms of the headings of the tariff and any relative section or chapter notes.

In Headquarters Ruling Letter (HRL) 082803 dated December 26, 1988, the term "outer surface" was defined as that surface which is both visible and tactile. However, since that ruling concerned plastic coated textiles, it is not controlling here.

As stated in HRL 081839 dated July 6, 1988, "[t]he definition of patent leather sets guidelines as to whether coated leather is plastic or leather." Acknowledging the fact that the ruling involved a determination as to the "exterior surface" of a plastic coated leather upper under Chapter 64, it is nonetheless, our position that the same test should be applied to plastic coated leather attache cases.

The Explanatory Notes constitute the official interpretation of the HTSUSA at the international level. Explanatory Note 41.09 (1) defines patent leather as "leather coated or covered with a varnish or lacquer or with a pre-formed sheet of plastics and which has a lustrous mirror-like surface." Under this definition, patent leather is considered to be of leather if the plastic coating does not exceed 0.15mm [6/100 inch] thick, and as plastic if over that thickness.

In this instance the plastic coating exceeds 0.15 mm in thickness. Thus, the outer surfaces of the sample attache cases are considered plastic for tariff purposes.

GRI 3, HTSUSA, governs the classification of sets. Its relevant portions provide as follows:

3. When by application of rule 2(b) or for any other reason, goods are, prima facie, classifiable under two or more headings, classification shall be effected as follows:

(a) the heading which provides the most specific description shall be preferred to headings providing a more general description. However, when two or more headings each refer to * * * part only of the items in a set put up for retail sale, those headings are to be regarded as equally specific in relation to those goods, even if one gives a more complete or precise description of the goods.


(b) Mixtures, composite goods consisting of different materials or made up of different components, and goods put up in sets for retail sale, which cannot be classified by reference to 3(a), shall be classified as if they consisted of the material or component which gives them their essential character, insofar as this criterion is applicable.

The Explanatory Note to GRI 3 (b), provides in pertinent part as follows:

(VIII) The factor which determines essential character will vary as between different kinds of goods. It may, for example, be determined by the nature of the material or component, its bulk, quantity, weight or value, or by the role of a constituent material in relation to the use of the goods.

(X) For the purposes of this Rule, the term "goods put up in sets for retail sale" shall be taken to mean goods which:

(a) consist of at least two different articles which are, prima facie, classifiable in different headings. Therefore, for example, six fondue forks cannot be regarded as a set within the meaning of this Rule:

(b) consist of products or articles put up together to meet a particular need or carry out a specific activity; and

(c) are put up in a manner suitable for sale directly to users without repacking (e.g., in boxes or cases or on boards).

The attache case M142 and the fitted stationery articles are prima facie, classifiable in different headings.

The attache case with the fitted stationery items have been put together to meet a particular need. Specifically, stationery items are quite often needed at business meetings or while traveling and the case provides a convenient holder for them.

The various stationery articles fitted to the inside cover of the case are put up in a manner suitable for retail sale directly to users without repacking.


In view of the foregoing, it is our view that the attache case with the fitted stationery items constitutes a set for tariff purposes. However, in order to classify this merchandise we must determine that which imparts the essential character to the merchandise. The attache case is the container for the various stationery items. It is apparent that the cost of the attache case far exceeds the cost of the stationery items. That fact in itself is not indicative of essential character. However, it is our position that the attache case imparts the essential character to the combination due to its role in the use of the stationery items. It greatly facilitates the use of the stationery items in particular situations and also provides a convenient storage for these items when they are not needed. The attache case is also the component of the set which has more consumer appeal than the stationery items contained therein.


The attache cases are classifiable under subheading 4202.12.2030, HTSUSA, as attache cases with outer surface of plastics and dutiable at the rate 20 percent ad valorem.


John Durant, Director
Commercial Rulings Division

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