In a case argued successfully by Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg attorneys, the Court of International Trade ruled recently that certain stringed light sets are properly classified as other electric lamps and lighting fittings under HTSUS 9405.40.8000 (3.9 percent duty) rather than as lighting sets of a kind used for Christmas trees under HTSUS 9405.30.0010 (8 percent duty).

The light sets at issue come in two basic varieties: those with a black cord, which contain multiple combinations of three differently-colored light bulbs, and those with a white cord, which have a single combination of seven bulb colors. The packaging of the black-corded light sets highlights the color of the bulbs, the articles’ capacity for use indoors and outdoors, the ability of the consumer to connect the light sets “end to end,” and the color and length of the cord. The packaging further contains an image of the light sets displayed with pumpkins, candy, and witches’ hats as well as repeated references to objects such as a “witch’s cauldron” and a “graveyard.”

The white-corded light sets are labeled as “100 multi mini lights” and the front of their packaging highlights features such as the consumer’s ability to connect 10 sets end to end, the bulb color variety, the length and color of the cord, the articles’ capacity for use indoors and outdoors, and the energy-saving benefits of the light sets. These sets are sold year-round and their packaging makes no mention of the Christmas holiday.

The CIT concluded that the principal use of these sets is not for use on Christmas trees because they are multi-colored, indoor/outdoor light sets designed principally for use as Halloween lights or general decoration. Further, the court stated, these sets are not commercially fungible with Christmas tree lights because there is nothing about them that demonstrates design or importation for use as such. For example, while the government argued that the subject sets are the same as Christmas tree light sets except for the color of the cords, the court asserted that this color is in fact “crucial” in demonstrating that the products are not interchangeable, as black and white cords would be “in glaring contrast to the green foliage of Christmas trees.”

For more information on this or similar cases, please contact Marilyn-Joy Cerny at (212) 549-0161.

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