In ruling NY N320557 (August 4, 2021), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) discussed the country of origin of five Thin Film Transistor – Liquid Crystal Display (TFT-LCD) modules. All five modules are virtually identical in composition, as they are all composed of a TFT-LCD cell, polarizers, a backlight, a driver and control printed circuit board (PCB), and a flexible PCB for connection. TFT display technology allows for the construction of high-resolution LCD displays, and the modules – once completed – can be incorporated into a variety of consumers display applications.

The manufacturing process for the five modules is also identical. The process begins in Japan where the TFT-LCD cell is manufactured. The TFT is created by depositing transistors onto a substrate through chemical vapor deposition, while the color filter is manufactured by building a color matrix on a glass substrate. The creation process of the cells is then completed when a layer of liquid crystal is deposited between the color filter and TFT as the two part are bonded together, creating a sheet of TFT-LCD cells. As next steps, the sheet of cells is delivered to China to be cut into individual cells. The cut-up cells are then bonded to the printed circuit board assembly (PCBA) – which contains the driver and control circuity – before the polarizers, backlight, and flexible connection PCBA are attached.

In its determination, CBP notes that, as defined under 19 CFR 134.1(b), the country of origin is the “country of manufacture, production, or growth of any article of foreign origin entering the United States. Further work or material added to an article in another country must effect a substantial transformation in order to render such other country the ‘country of origin’ within the meaning of this part.”

CBP also established that “substantial transformation” takes place when a particular product “emerges from a process with a new name, character or use different from that possessed by the article prior to processing.” The agency explained that the completed TFT-LCD cell is what imparts the essential function of the module and that the manufacturing process in Japan is what renders the end-use of the product. Despite the assembly that took place in China, the process did not substantially transform the cell into a new and different article. As such, CBP determined that the country of origin of the five modules is Japan.