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HQ 963875

August 3, 2000

CLA-2 RR:CR:TE 963875 mbg


TARIFF NO.: 5601.21.0090

Mr. Arthur K. Purcell, Esq.
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, P.A.
551 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10176

RE: Classification of Medical Use Cotton Tip Applicators

Dear Mr. Purcell:

This is in reply to your letter dated April 11, 2000, on behalf of your client, Graham Professional, A Division of Little Rapids Corp., requesting a ruling on the classification of cotton tip wooden applicators used for medical purposes. A sample was submitted with your request. We also note that a subsequent submission specifically regarding a recent Customs Informed Compliance publication was received and upon your request, a meeting with attorneys from the Office of Regulations & Rulings was held on June 28, 2000.


The subject merchandise is cotton tipped applicators (“CTAs”) imported from China. The CTA consists of a finished, thin wooden stick in either 3 or 6 inch lengths to which a small amount of cotton has been glued to one end. The cotton head is tightly wound so that it will not fray. The wooden stick is said to be made from white birch wood. The CTAs will be marketed and sold only to the medical profession and will be imported in bulk to be put in dispensers before being sold and distributed.


What is the proper classification of the cotton tipped applicators?


Classification of goods under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated (“HTSUSA”) is governed by the General Rules of Interpretation (“GRIs”). GRI 1 provides that classification shall be determined according to the terms of the heading of the tariff schedule and any relative section or chapter notes. In the event that the goods cannot be classified solely on the basis of GRI 1, and if the headings and legal notes do not otherwise require, the remaining GRI may then be applied. The Explanatory Notes (“EN”) to the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, which represent the official interpretation of the tariff at the international level, facilitate classification under the HTSUSA by offering guidance in understanding the scope of the headings and GRI.

There are four headings under the HTSUSA which must be considered for classification of the merchandise under consideration: heading 3005 provides for inter alia wadding, gauze, bandages, and similar articles; heading 5601 provides for inter alia wadding of textile materials and articles thereof; heading 9018 provides for instruments and appliances used in medical sciences; and heading 4421 provides for other articles of wood.

Wadding, gauze, bandages and similar articles are typically classified in heading 3005, HTSUSA, which reads as follows:

Wadding, gauze, bandages and similar articles (for example, dressings, adhesive plaster, poultices), impregnated or coated with pharmaceutical substances or put in forms or packings for retail sale for medical, surgical, dental or veterinary purposes.

Under the rule of ejusdem generis, the phrase “similar articles” is limited to goods which “possess the essential characteristics or purposes that unite the articles enumerated eo nomine.” Totes, Inc. v. U.S., 69 F.3d 495, 498 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (citing Sports Graphics, Inc. v. United States, 24 F.3d 1390 (Fed. Cir. 1994)). For classification of non-adhesive products within heading 3005, the products must be either coated or impregnated with pharmaceutical substances, or put up in forms or packings for retail sale. Additionally, in either case, articles of heading 3005 must be for medical, surgical, dental or veterinary purposes.

In an effort to provide guidance as to those products which are classifiable within heading 3005, HTSUSA, as well as those products which are outside of the heading purview, Customs published an Informed Compliance Publication on Heading 3005, which states:

Cotton swabs, whether of general or specialized use, have been consistently determined to be classifiable outside of heading 3005 [HQ 953256 of 6/93 and NY 881943 of 1/26/93]. They are not similar to exemplars of heading 3005. Swabs are generally of nonwoven material not suitable for wound dressing or treatment. In a medical setting, they are used for no more than possible cleaning of or application of an antiseptic to unbroken skin, and not for dressing wounds.

(emphasis added). U.S. Customs Service, Wadding, Gauze, Bandages, and Similar Articles (Heading 3005, HTSUS), 34 Cust. B. & Dec. 25, 267 (June 21, 2000) (See e.g., NY 877599, dated August 28, 1992; NY F81261, dated Jan.11, 2000; NY E83942, dated July 23, 1999).

The products classified in heading 3005, HTSUS are characterized by direct application to the diseased or injured tissue, e.g., application to wounds for protection, absorption of exudate, occlusion, medication, immobilization, etc. Products of heading 3005 are intended to be placed on and remain on wounded tissue and play a major role in wound management. As the CTAs are used once and then discarded and are only temporarily placed on the wound, the CTAs are not properly classified in heading 3005, HTSUSA.

You have proposed heading 9018, HTSUS for possible classification of the subject CTAs. Heading 9018, HTSUS, provides for medical instruments and appliances. The EN for heading 9018, HTSUSA, states in pertinent part:

This heading covers a very wide range of instruments and appliances which , in the vast majority of cases, are used only in professional practice (eg., by doctors, surgeons, dentists, veterinary surgeons, midwives), either to make a diagnosis, to prevent or treat an illness or to operate, etc.

The EN further state “the instruments of the heading may be made of any material (including precious metals). Typically, the types of medical instruments classified in heading 9018 are the expensive surgical and diagnostic instruments; however, Customs considered heading 9018, HTSUS, for purposes of discussion.

The Legal Note 1(a) for Chapter 90 indicates that among other things the Chapter does not cover articles of a kind used in machines, appliances, or for other technical uses of textile material (heading No. 59.11). While the CTAs do contain cotton wadding which is considered a textile material, the CTAs are not excluded from classification in Chapter 90 since the Legal Note applies only to heading 5911. Heading 5911 generally applies to textile articles such as fabrics and felts which are used in various machinery and instruments for technical purposes and not to merchandise used in the actual treatment of a wound such as the CTAs.

Several factors are outlined in the EN for heading 9018 which for classification purposes assist in determining which medical tools or cutlery instruments are properly classified in heading 9018 as medical instruments. This factors include 1) clearly identifiable as being for medical or surgical use by reason of their special shape; 2) the ease with which they are dismantled for sterilization; 3) their better quality manufacture; and 4) the nature of the constituent metals or by their “get-up.”

Although these factors are specifically applicable to only tools or articles of cutlery, these factors also reveal what qualities are necessary for inclusion within heading 9018 for merchandise not specifically provided for within the heading. Review of these factors in relation to the CTAs provides strong reasoning for exclusion from heading 9018. For instance, the specific intent of the CTAs is to facilitate usage in the medical field for specific testing and treatment of a confined body cavity area or locale; however, the overall design of the subject CTAs is not different from similar types of merchandise found in camera or hobby stores for specialized use in those fields. In physical appearance, the subject CTAs do not look any different from cotton tipped camera lens cleaners or glue applicators for complicated miniature hobby models. Therefore, the CTAs fail the first prong of the aforementioned anylsis for inclusion in heading 9018.

GRI 3 provides, in pertinent part:

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 materials or substances contained in mixed or composite goods or to part only of the items put up for retail sale, those headings are to be regarded as equally specific in relation to those goods, even if one of them 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.

(c) When goods cannot be classified by reference to 3(a) or 3(b), they shall be classified under the heading which occurs last in numerical order among those which equally merit consideration.

(emphasis added).

Heading 5601, HTSUS provides for wadding of textile materials. The EN for heading 5601, HTSUS, states in pertinent part:

Wadding which has been fixed to an internal or external textile support by lightly punching, and wadding covered on one or both sides with paper, textile or other material (either by sewing or glueing), also remain classified here provided their essential character is that of wadding and that they do not constitute products of heading 58.11.

U.S. Customs has typically classified cotton swabs in heading 5601, HTSUS, as cotton wadding. See NY F81261, dated Jan. 11, 2000; NY 877599, dated Aug. 28, 1992; NY 881943, dated Jan. 26, 1993; NY E83942, dated July 23, 1999. The medical industry uses the CTAs in laboratory testing and for physical examinations in which small confined bodily cavities must be tested. Customs views the cotton wadding as the necessary component for which the medical industry would use a CTA in such an examination. Considering that it is the cotton wadding which allows for the absorbency of the liquids and specimens for medical testing, Customs views the cotton wadding as the essential character of the cotton tipped applicators pursuant to a GRI 3b analysis.

You have also proposed heading 4421, HTSUS, as a possible alternative heading for the CTAs. This heading provides for other articles of wood and is suggested based upon the wooden stick providing the essential character of the CTA. Customs disagrees with this proposed classification. Other importers of similar merchandise produce cotton swabs on either paper or plastic sticks in addition to wooden sticks. Customs attempts to classify similar merchandise in the same tariff provision under the HTSUS. As such, classification within the provision for cotton wadding allows for all similar merchandise to be included within one HTS heading.

Based on the aforementioned analysis and the provisions and notes of the HTS, Customs determines that the cotton tip applicators are properly classified in heading 5601, HTSUS.


The subject merchandise is classifiable in subheading 5601.21.0090, HTSUSA, which provides for “Wadding of textile materials and articles thereof; textile fibers, not exceeding 5 mm in length (flock), textile dust and mill neps: Wadding; other articles of wadding: Of cotton: Other.” The general column one duty rate is 5 percent ad valorem. The designated textile category number is 369.

The designated textile and apparel category may be subdivided into parts. If so, visa and quota requirements applicable to 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 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.


John Durant, Director

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