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HQ 088562

December 5, 1991

CLA-2 CO:R:C:T 088562 CRS


TARIFF NO.: 4202.92.1500

Mr. Robert K. Ermatinger
Executive Vice President
Luggage and Leather Goods
Manufacturers of America, Inc.
350 Fifth Avenue
Suite 2624
New York, NY 10018

RE: Cotton tote bags; handbags; travel, sports and similar bags; Additional U.S. Note 1, Chapter 42, HTSUSA; J.E. Mamiye & Sons v. United States; Adolco Trading Co. v. United States; HRL 086094; HRL 086938.

Dear Mr. Ermatinger:

This is in reply to your letter dated February 20, 1991, to the Commissioner of Customs, in which you requested that Customs reconsider the classification of tote bags under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated (HTSUSA). You specifically asked that we reconsider Headquarters Ruling Letter (HRL) 086094 dated March 16, 1990, and HRL 086938 dated August 20, 1990. Sample tote bags were not submitted; instead, excerpts from the 1986 High Sierra catalogue that portray various types of canvas bags were provided. Some of the bags portrayed therein are similar to the merchandise described below; others are quite different. The scope of this ruling, however, is confined to the articles described below.


The merchandise in question in HRL 086094 consisted of five styles of cotton canvas tote bags with the following approximate dimensions:

(3) Style No. 124 -- 14-1/2" x 13-1/2" (no gusset)

The bags listed above were not lined or reinforced nor did they have inside or outside pockets. Style nos. 103 and 128 had snap closures; the remainder had open tops.

At issue in HRL 086938 were four styles of cotton tote bags with the following approximate dimensions:

(2) Style 102 -- 15-1/2" x 14" (no gusset)

The bags of HRL 086938 were not lined or reinforced, nor did they have pockets or snap closures.

In HRL 086094 and HRL 086938, the tote bags described above were held to be similar to handbags. However, in your letter of February 20th you maintain that tote bags should be classified under a residual provision for travel, sports and similar bags. Furthermore, with regard to the future classification of tote bags, you urge that Customs strictly apply the Guidelines for Determining the Scope of the Luggage Provisions of the Tariff Schedules (Guidelines). See HRL 073827 dated May 3, 1984. The Guidelines were issued under the Tariff Schedules of the United States Annotated (TSUSA), the predecessor of the HTSUSA.


The issue presented is whether the tote bags in question are classifiable as handbags, or, pursuant to Additional U.S. Note 1, Chapter 42, HTSUSA, under a residual provision for travel, sports and similar bags.


The relevant heading in this case is heading 4202, HTSUSA, which provides, inter alia, for trunks, suitcases, vanity cases, attache cases, briefcases...and similar containers; traveling bags...handbags...sports bags...and similar containers of...textile materials.... Within heading 4202, the pertinent subheadings are subheading 4202.22, HTSUSA, which provides for handbags, whether or not with shoulder strap, including those without handle, with outer surface of plastic sheeting or of textile material; and subheading 4202.92, HTSUSA, which provides for other (articles of heading 4202) with outer surface of plastic sheeting or of textile material. The residual provision of subheading 4202.92, is further broken down at the U.S. level (eight digits) into provisions for travel, sports and similar bags, and for musical instrument cases, and a further residual provision for other containers. While the cotton canvas tote bags of HRLs 086094 and 086938 were classified as handbags, you contend that this classification was incorrect, and that tote bags similar to those described above should be classified under the residual provision for travel, sports and similar bags.

The scope of the provision for travel, sports and similar bags is defined by Additional U.S. Note 1, Chapter 42, HTSUSA, as follows:

For the purposes of heading 4202, the expression "travel, sports and similar bags" means goods, other than those falling in subheadings 4202.11 through 4202.39, of a kind used for carrying clothing and other personal effects during travel, including backpacks and shopping bags of this heading, but does not include binocular cases, camera cases, musical instrument cases, bottle cases and similar containers.

U.S. Note 1 therefore explicitly provides that in order for an article to be classified as a travel, sports and similar bag it must be something other than the type of article falling in subheadings 4201.11 through 4202.39. Thus before the tote bags in question can be classified under a residual subheading, they must first be excluded from the pertinent specific subheadings, in this instance, the provision for handbags. The U.S. Note merely reinforces the legal requirements of General Rules of Interpretation 1 and 6.

In HRL 086094 (See also HRL 086676 dated March 21, 1990), we stated in relevant part:

The subject tote bags function primarily as secondary handbags used to carry various objects which do not fit into a woman's regular handbag.

As the tote bags in question were deemed similar in function to handbags, it was Customs' view that they were classifiable in subheading 4202.22 pursuant to GRI 6.

HRL 086094 followed the rationale of J.E. Mamiye & Sons, Inc. v. U.S., 509 F. Supp. 1268 (1980), aff'd, 665 F.2d 336 (1981), in which the court addressed the issue of whether tote bags, which varied in size, color and material, were properly classifiable under the TSUSA in a specific provision for handbags or as shopping bags under a provision for textile articles not specially provided for. The court noted that tote bags are used to carry items which do not ordinarily fit within a women's handbag and, on this basis, held that they were similar to handbags. In so holding, the court stated in relevant part:

The primary issue presented is whether the imported tote bags are handbags as claimed or whether they are excluded from classification under item 706.24, supra, by virtue of being shopping bags in accordance with Headnote 2(b) of Schedule 7, Part 1, Subpart D....As indicated, supra, the provision for handbags is an eo nomine provision....Ordinarily, use is not a criteria in determining whether merchandise is embraced within an eo nomine provision. However, use may be considered in determining the identity of an eo nomine designation....

Following this principle the record establishes that the involved tote bags are utilized by women as second handbags to carry items which do not ordinarily fit within a handbag....Accordingly, it is apparent that, while a tote bag may be used to carry purchases, nine of the eighteen witnesses who testified indicated it is used for the convenience of those items which do not fit within a handbag. Such testimony is sufficient to establish the use of a tote bag to be similar to a handbag....

Id. at 1274.

Nevertheless, you have argued that the Guidelines should govern all future classification rulings on tote bags. The Guidelines were issued to supplement the definition of luggage in Schedule 7, Part 1, Subpart D, Headnote 2, TSUSA; consequently, they are of limited value for the purposes of classification under the HTSUSA. In no circumstances will they be used for more than guidance purposes. Where the Guidelines are ambiguous, it is Customs' view that the use of the article should be considered in order to determine whether a particular article comes within the terms of subheading 4202.22. Id. at 1274.

The canvas tote bags in question may in some circumstances be used by women as secondary handbags, that is, to carry items which do not ordinarily fit within a handbag. However, cotton tote bags similar to those at issue are used for a variety of purposes. In Adolco Trading Co. v. United States, 71 Cust. Ct. 145, C.D. 4487 (1973), witnesses described tote bags in broad terms.

[T]he term "tote is a general one used to indicate all types of carry bags, regardless of whether they are used for shopping or travel....


...[T]he word "tote" is a general term used by many manufacturers to refer to carry bags....

Id. at 151-152. The court concluded that:

The evidence establishes that...the term tote or tote bag is used in the trade to cover various types of carry bags, including shopping bags, and bags which may be luggage...and others which may be handbags....Thus the fact that an article may be bought, sold or referred to as a tote or tote bag does not establish that it is a handbag....

Id. at 155.

The instant tote bags are made from cotton canvas and are often printed with company logos, or promotional or advertising information. They have no means of closure, no pockets and are not lined or reinforced. Since they are of relatively coarse construction, carry advertising and provide little protection for whatever items they may contain, it is unlikely that the tote bags in question are used in a manner similar to a women's handbag. Instead, it is Customs' opinion that canvas tote bags similar to those at issue are used as multipurpose bags to carry any number of sundry articles, such as food, books and/or clothing. Since they do not fit the terms of subheadings 4202.11 through 4202.39, and since they are a type of bag used to carry clothing and other personal effects during travel, they meet the definition of travel, sports and similar bags of Additional U.S. Note 1, Chapter 42, HTSUSA, and are therefore classifiable accordingly.


The cotton tote bags at issue are classifiable in subheading 4202.92.1500, HTSUSA, under the provision for trunks...shopping bags...and similar articles...: other: with outer surface of plastic sheeting or of textile materials: travel, sports and similar bags: with outer surface of textile materials: of vegetable fibers and not of pile or tufted construction: of cotton. They are dutiable at the rate of 7.2 percent ad valorem and are subject to textile category 369.

The designated textile and apparel category may be subdivided into parts. If so, visa and quota requirements applicable to the subject merchandise may be affected. Since part categories are the result of international bilateral agreements which are subject to frequent renegotiations and changes, to obtain the most current information available, we suggest that you check, close to the time of shipment, the Status Report on Current Import Quotas (Restraint Levels), an internal issuance of the U.S. Customs Service, which is available for inspection at your local Customs office.

Due to the changeable nature of the statistical annotation (the ninth and tenth digits of the classification) and the restraint (quota/visa) categories, you should contact your local Customs office prior to importation of this merchandise to determine the current status of any import restraints or requirements.


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