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HQ 965895

December 13, 2002

CLA-2 RR: CR: GC 965895 TPB


TARIFF NO.: 8536.50.9040

Ms. Madeline B. Kuflik
Assistant General Counsel
One Panasonic Way, 3B-6
Secaucus, New Jersey 07094

RE: Classification of “Light Touch” Switches; “Push Button” Switches; “Momentary Contact” Switches; Snap-Action; Electromechanical.

Dear Ms. Kuflik:

This is in response to your letter dated May 3, 2002, filed by Panasonic Industrial Company (“PIC”), to the Director, Customs National Commodity Specialist Division, New York, requesting classification of “light touch” switches under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (“HTSUS”). Your letter was referred to this office for reply. In reaching our conclusion, consideration was given to your supplemental submission dated August 20, 2002.


The merchandise at issue are certain switches known as “light touch,” “push button” or “momentary contact” switches. These switches are used primarily in cellular phones, although you have stated that they have other uses as well. They are designed for a current not exceeding 11 amps.

The switches are used by pressing on a button (or “knob”) until a metal diaphragm (located under the button) snaps down with a “click” feeling (or a tactile feedback), making a momentary contact of the switch while it is depressed. Once the pressing action is stopped (by releasing the button), the pressed diaphragm snaps back, cutting the contact of the switch, giving a click-back feeling through the button.


Are the subject switches properly classified under subheading 8536.50.70, HTSUS, as electromechanical snap-action switches not exceeding 11 amps, or under subheading 8536.50.90, HTSUS, which provides for electrical apparatus for switching electrical circuits, other snap action switches?


Classification under the HTSUS is made in accordance with the General Rules of Interpretation (“GRIs”). GRI 1 provides that the classification of goods shall be determined according to the terms of the headings 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 GRIs may then be applied.

The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System Explanatory Notes (“ENs”) constitute the official interpretation of the Harmonized System at the international level. While neither legally binding nor dispositive, the ENs provide a commentary on the scope of each heading of the HTSUS and are generally indicative of the proper interpretation of these headings. See T.D. 89-80.

The HTSUS provisions under consideration are as follows:

Electrical apparatus for switching or protecting electrical circuits, or for making connections to or in electrical circuits (for example, switches, relays, fuses, surge suppressors, plugs, sockets, lamp-holders, junction boxes), for a voltage not exceeding 1,000 V:

Other switches:


Electronic AC switches consisting of optically coupled input and output circuits (insulated thyristor AC switches); electronic switches, including temperature protected switches, consisting of a transistor and a logic chip (chip-on-chip technology); electromechanical snap-action switches for a current not exceeding 11 amps


8536.50.9040 Snap-action, other than limit.

GRI 6, HTSUS, provides as follows:

6. For legal purposes, the classification of goods in the subheadings of a heading shall be determined according to the terms of those subheadings and any related subheading notes and, mutatis mutandis, to the above rules on the understanding that only subheadings at the same level are comparable. For the purposes of this rule, the relative section, chapter and subchapter notes also apply, unless the context otherwise requires.

To ensure that uniformity can be maintained at the subheading level, GRIs 1 to 5 governs classification to subheading levels within the same heading. After determining the appropriate heading in accordance with the first five rules, we then apply the GRIs again, to the appropriate subheading.

When making comparisons of subheadings, we compare the same level six-digit to six-digit, or eight-digit to eight-digit subheading, also taking into consideration section and chapter notes at the subheading level, unless the context otherwise requires.

The subheadings in question deal with electrical switches that are of the electromechanical, snap-action type, or other snap-action type. Neither the terms “snap-action” nor “electromechanical” are defined in the HTSUS or the ENs. Undefined tariff terms are construed in accordance with their common and commercial meaning. See Nippon Kogaku (USA), Inc. v. United States, 69 CCPA 89, 673 F2d. 380 (1982). Common and commercial meaning may be determined by consulting dictionaries, lexicons, scientific authorities and other reliable sources. See C.J. Tower & Sons v. United States, 69 CCPA 128, 673 F2d. 1268 (1982).

The term “snap action” is found within the performance specifications for switches in U.S. Military Specifications MIL-PRF-8805E (“MIL”) as follows:

Snap action is that type of contact action in which speed of the moving contacts is relatively independent of the speed of the actuating mechanism.

The term is also defined in the “Glossary of Switch Terms,” at http://www.pressureswitch.com/Files/glossary.htm, which reads as follows:

Snap-Action Switch:

A mechanically operated electric switch which, once its actuator has reached its operating (or release) point, immediately transfers to its opposite position without further travel of the actuator.

Yet another definition can be found in “A Glossary of Common Switch Terms,” at http://www.eaoswitch.com/about/glossary.htm, which reads:

Snap Action

The rapid transfer of contacts from one position to another. This action is essentially independent of actuator speed.

The definitions all agree that basically, the term refers to a switch that returns to its standard position once the electrical contact has been opened or closed. Based upon the information and samples provided, we find that the switches in question meet the term “snap-action.”

Similarly, neither the HTSUS nor the ENs provides a definition for the term “electromechanical.” Again, we turn to common and commercial meaning to find a definition for the term. You provide a definition for an “electromechanical apparatus” from the Penguin Dictionary of Electronics (2d ed.), which reads as follows:

Any device that converts electrical signals into related mechanical movement or vice versa.

You also provide a definition from the General Specification for Special-Use Electromechanical Switches of Certified Quality, published by the Electronics Industry of America (“EIA”) that states that an electromechanical switch is

A switch that opens, closes, or changes the connection of an electrical circuit by the mechanical motion of conducting parts (contacts). The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1973) defines “electromechanical” as:
of or pertaining to mechanical devices or systems electrically actuated, as by a solenoid.

And Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1965) gives a definition of “electromechanical” which states:
of, relating to, or being a mechanical process, device, or assembly of parts actuated or controlled electrically

You go on to provide the introduction to the IEC

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is a global organization that prepares and publishes international standards for electrical, electronic and related technologies. The IEC promotes international cooperation on all questions of electrotechnical standardization and related matters, such as the assessment of conformity to standards in the fields of electricity, electronics and related technologies. which states:

This generic specification covers electromechanical switches of assessed quality. It provides the general requirements, test methods, and quality assessment requirements for use in sectional specifications for push-button switches, rotary switches, sensitive switches, toggle switches, and other electormechanical switches.

IEC 61020-1.

We also found several useful definitions in the IEEE The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE; Eye-triple-E) is a non-profit, technical professional association of more than 377,000 individual members in 150 countries.

Through its members, the IEEE is a leading authority in technical areas ranging from computer engineering, biomedical technology and telecommunications, to electric power, aerospace and consumer electronics, among others. Authoritative Dictionary of IEEE Standards Terms (7th Ed.). The IEEE defines an electromechanical device as:

A device that is electrically operated and has mechanical motion, such as relays, servos, etc.

The same dictionary defines a switch, in pertinent part, as follows:

(4) (electric and electronics parts and equipment) A device for making, breaking, or changing the connections in an electric circuit. Note: a switch may be operated by manual, mechanical, hydraulic, thermal, barometric, or by gravitational means, or by electromechanical means not falling within the definition of “relay.”

An electromechanical relay is defined by the IEEE as:

A relay that operates by physical movement of parts resulting from electromagnetic, electrostatic or electro-thermic forces created by the input quantities.

From the above information, we see that there is some disagreement between the IEC and the IEEE as the whether or not a switch that is manually operated falls into the category of “electromechanical.” Although both of these organizations work with their members to establish uniform guidelines, there are clearly discrepancies in their definitions. The common usage found in the various lexicons, however, would tend to lend their support to the notion that an “electromechanical” switch is one in which mechanical movement is created via electrical force (i.e. electromagnetic, electrostatic, etc., rather than by manual operation.

Based upon the information provided to us, and through our own research, we are unpersuaded that the snap-action switches presently before us are electromechanical snap-action switches of the type classified under subheading 8536.50.70, HTSUS. We find that they are properly classified as other snap-action switches, under subheading 8536.50.9040, HTSUS. Should you wish to present further evidence as to the scope of the term “electromechanical,” we would be willing to reconsider the matter.


For the reasons stated above, light touch switches are to be classified under subheading 8536.50.9040, HTSUS, as: “Electrical apparatus for switching or protecting electrical circuits, or for making connections to or in electrical circuits (for example, switches, relays, fuses, surge suppressors, plugs, sockets, lamp-holders, junction boxes), for a voltage not exceeding 1,000 V: Other switches: Other: Other: Snap-action, other than limit.”


Myles B. Harmon, Acting Director
Commercial Rulings Division

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