In a recent opinion, the US Court of International Trade (CIT) found that certain fabric covered pool floats should be classified as plastics — not textiles — for tariff purposes.  Despite the textile elements of the floats, the sequential application of the General Rules of Interpretation led the CIT to find that the air-filled plastic bladder which allowed the product to float in water gave the floats their “essential character.”

The products at issue are floats for a swimming pool which a generally designed with an outer perimeter containing a plastic bladder which is covered with fabric.  Inside the perimeter is a fabric mesh which “suspends” the user’s body at or just below the water’s surface.  The floats also contain a flexible steel rod around the perimeter which allowed the floats to be folded neatly for storage and then “sprung” into a usable position. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had classified the floats as textiles under subheading 6307.90.98 for “[o]ther made up articles, including dress patters: Other: Other” and subject to a 7% duty.  The producer of the floats asserted that the products should be classified under subheading 3926.90.75 for “[o]ther articles of plastics and articles of other materials of headings 3901 to 3914: Other: Pneumatic mattresses and other inflatable articles, not elsewhere specified or included” and subject to 4.2% duty.

At the core of the dispute was the intersection of the textile and plastic elements of the the products. The CIT began its analysis under General Rule of Interpretation (GRI) 1 and determined that neither proposed heading, 6307 or 3926, fully described the floats which contained significant components of both textile and plastic.  CBP argued that, like life jackets which are classified as textiles, the were no separate components to the textile floats which required evaluation beyond GRI 1. Nevertheless, the Court found the textile and plastic components to be distinct and, therefore, pursuant to GRI 2, the mixed-material products were to be evaluated in accordance with GRI 3. Under GRI 3(b), if a material or component of the imparts the “essential character” of the good, then product should be classified based on that defining material or component.

CBP argued that the product was entirely covered in textiles and, significantly, without the textile mesh which suspends the user, the float would not function as intended.  The CIT, however, determined that the air-filled plastic bladders around the perimeter where the component which gave the floats their essential character.  As the Court found, even if one conceded that the mesh component is necessary for proper function, without the bladders, the mesh would lack support to help the user float. Accordingly, the CIT determined that heading 3926 was the correct heading.

In a separate part of its opinion, the CIT declined to classify certain floats designed for babies as general exercise equipment in part because the packaging lauded the products ability to keep babies “comfortable and happy.”