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HQ 561783

September 19, 2000

CLA-2 RR:CR:SM 561783 CW


TARIFF NO.: 9802.00.50

Mr. Thomas O. Powers
4180 Huanui Street
Honolulu, HI 96816

RE: Revocation of HRL 557770; painting decorative designs on imitation fingernails abroad; alteration

Dear Mr. Powers:

This is in reference to Headquarters Ruling Letter (HRL) 557770 dated February 24, 1994, which was issued to you concerning the applicability of the partial duty exemption under subheading 9802.00.50, Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), to painted plastic fingernails from Indonesia. We have reviewed this ruling and have determined that its conclusion that subheading 9802.00.50, HTSUS, is inapplicable to the returned decorated fingernails is incorrect. Therefore, HRL 557770 is revoked for the reasons set forth below.


Plastic fingernails are produced in the U.S. by Allied Mold & Die Corp., California. The nails are available in assorted solid colors and are sold in sets of 24. You purchase the nails for approximately two cents per nail and send them to Indonesia, where they are painted with decorative designs. The cost of the painting is approximately two cents per nail. The decorated nails are then returned to the U.S., where they are packaged and sold as a decorative, wearable accessory.

In HRL 557770, Customs held that the foreign decorative painting constitutes an operation which exceeds an alteration under subheading 9802.00.50, HTSUS. In support of this conclusion, Customs stated that the design painting imparts substantially new and different characteristics
to the fingernails, that the fingernails as exported to Indonesia are incomplete for their intended use, and that the foreign processing is a necessary step in the production of the final article.


Whether the U.S.-origin imitation fingernails which are painted with decorative designs in Indonesia are entitled to the partial duty exemption under subheading 9802.00.50, HTSUS, when returned to the U.S.


Subheading 9802.00.50, HTSUS, provides a partial duty exemption for articles exported from and returned to the United States after having been advanced in value or improved in condition abroad by repairs or alterations, provided the documentary requirements of section 10.8, Customs Regulations (19 CFR 10.8), are satisfied.

Court cases considering the applicability of subheading 9802.00.50, HTSUS, and its precursor provisions (item 806.20, Tariff Schedules of the United States (TSUS), and, before that, paragraph 1615(g), Tariff Act of 1930), have held that this tariff provision is inapplicable where: (1) the exported articles are incomplete for their intended use and the foreign processing operation is a necessary step in the preparation or manufacture of finished articles; or (2) the operations performed abroad destroy the identity of the exported articles or create new or commercially different articles through a process of manufacture.

In Guardian Industries v. United States, 3 CIT 9 (1982), the Court of International Trade stated that, in construing “the tariff provision for repairs and alterations performed abroad, the focus is upon whether the exported article is ‘incomplete’ or ‘unsuitable for its intended use’ prior to the foreign processing.” At issue in Guardian Industries was the question of whether subjecting U.S.-produced annealed glass to a tempering process in Canada to create glass for sliding glass patio doors qualifies as an “alteration” under item 806.20, TSUS. The court noted that glass must be tempered (i.e., strengthened) for practical safety use reasons and to conform to U.S. federal regulations before it may be marketed for use in sliding glass patio doors. In concluding that the tempering process was not an “alteration”, the court stated that “the exported articles of raw annealed glass were not ‘completed articles’ since they were entirely unsuitable for their intended use” as sliding glass patio doors and required a manufacturing process to make them complete. The court further concluded that, because the tempering of the annealed glass transformed the glass in name, use, performance characteristics and tariff classification, the operation created a new and different commercial article.

Similarly, in Dolliff & Company, Inc. v. United States, 81 Cust. Ct. 1, C.D. 4755, 455 F.Supp. 618 (1978), aff’d, 66 CCPA 77, C.A.D. 1225, 599 F.2d 1015 (1979), the issue presented was whether certain U.S.-origin Dacron polyester fabrics which were exported to Canada as griege goods for heatsetting, chemicalscouring, dyeing, and treating with chemicals, were eligible for the partial duty exemption available under item 806.20, TSUS, when returned to the United States. The U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals found that the processing steps performed on the exported greige goods were undertaken to produce finished fabric and could not be considered as alterations. The court stated (66 CCPA at 82) that:

. . . repairs and alterations are made to completed articles and do not include intermediate processing operations, which are performed as a matter of course in the preparation or manufacture of finished articles. In the instant situation, the operations performed in Canada comprise further processing steps which are performed on unfinished goods and which lead to completed articles, i.e., the finished fabrics, and, therefore, the processing cannot be considered alterations.

In Amity Fabrics, Inc. v. United States, 43 Cust. Ct. 64, C.D. 2104 (1959), "pumpkin" colored fabrics were exported to Italy to be redyed black since the pumpkin color had gone out of fashion and black was a consistently good seller. The court held that the identity of the goods was not lost or destroyed by the dyeing process, that no new article was created since there was no change in the character, quality, texture, or use of the merchandise; it was merely changed in color. The court found that such change constituted an alteration for purposes of paragraph 1615(g) of the Tariff Act of 1930.

In Royal Bead Novelty Co. v. United States, 68 Cust.Ct. 154, C.D. 4353, 342 F. Supp. 1394 (1972), uncoated glass beads were exported so that they could be halfcoated with an Aurora Borealis finish which imparted a rainbowlike luster to the halfcoated beads. The court found that the identity of the beads was not lost or destroyed in the coating process and no new article was created. Moreover, there was no change in the beads' size, shape, or manner of use in making articles of jewelry (evidence was presented which indicated that both uncoated and halfcoated beads were used interchangeably). Accordingly, the court concluded that the application of the Aurora Borealis finish constituted an alteration within the meaning of item 806.20, TSUS.

In HRL 557161, dated June 28, 1993, Customs considered whether wooden interior shutters exported to Mexico for certain operations, including the application of several coats of paint or stain, were eligible for subheading 9802.00.50, HTSUS, treatment when returned to the U.S. The manufacturer also sold shutters in an “unfinished” condition; that is, without any paint or stain applied. Customs found that the shutters in their condition as exported from the U.S. (unfinished) were complete for their intended use to control light, ventilation, and to provide privacy, and that the painting or staining was not a necessary step in the production of the shutters. Therefore, Customs determined that the returned shutters were eligible for the partial duty exemption under subheading 9802.00.50, HTSUS. In making that determination, Customs also modified a past ruling, HRL 555093, dated April 26, 1989, to the extent that it disallowed subheading 9802.00.50, HTSUS, treatment for wooden furniture kits also sold in an unfinished condition and sent abroad for staining and lacquering.

Although Customs issued a notice in the September 6, 1995, Customs Bulletin (Volume 29, Number 36) proposing to modify HRL 557161 to reflect that the painting or staining abroad of unfinished interior shutters, and the staining and lacquering abroad of furniture kits under HRL 555093, would not be considered alterations under subheading 9802.00.50, HTSUS, this proposed action was withdrawn in a notice published on December 17, 1997, in the Customs Bulletin, Volume 31, Number 51. Thus, it remains Customs position that the painting or staining of the shutters in HRL 557161 and the staining and lacquering of the wooden furniture kits in HRL 555093 constitute permissible alterations under subheading 9802.00.50, HTSUS.

HRL 560325 dated January 27, 1998, concerned the eligibility for subheading 9802.00.50, HTSUS, treatment of U.S.-origin glass stemware which was decorated by a silkscreening process with a pictorial winter scene abroad and returned. The stemware was offered for sale both in its decorated and undecorated state. In holding that the decorating process constituted an alteration, Customs stated that:

. . . the processing abroad results only in a change to the appearance of the stemware, and does not alter the function, character or identity of the exported articles. The merchandise sent is finished white wine stemware, marketable in the condition exported, and what is returned is the same merchandise, available to the same class of customers, albeit enhanced in appearance by a decorative winter scene.

We believe that the holdings in HRLs 557161 and 560325 are controlling with respect to the facts in the instant case. Plastic imitation fingernails produced and sold in the U.S. in assorted solid colors are exported to Indonesia where they are painted with decorative designs. Both the imitation fingernails in their condition as exported and the returned decorated fingernails are marketed to consumers for the same use. We view this as persuasive evidence that the fingernails as exported from the U.S. are complete for their intended use as decorative wearable accessories and, therefore, that the foreign design painting operation is not a necessary step in the preparation or manufacture of finished imitation fingernails. Moreover, while painting decorative designs on the solid-color fingernails clearly imparts new decorative characteristics to the product, this change in the appearance of the articles does not result in the loss of the goods’ identify or the creation of a new article with a different commercial use. The foreign processing does not significantly change the quality, character or performance characteristics of the fingernails. Therefore, we find that the foreign decorative design operation constitutes an alteration within the meaning of subheading 9802.00.50, HTSUS.


On the basis of the information presented, we find that painting decorative designs on U.S.-made solid color imitation fingernails in Indonesia qualifies as an alteration under subheading 9802.00.50, HSTSUS. Therefore, the returned decoratively painted fingernails are entitled to the partial duty exemption under this tariff provision, provided the documentation requirements of 19 CFR 10.8 are met.

Consistent with the foregoing, HRL 557770 is hereby revoked. In accordance with 19 U.S.C. 1625(c), this ruling will become effective 60 days after its publication in the CUSTOMS BULLETIN.


John Durant, Director

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