Main Idea: Where goods are demonstrably for the use or benefit of handicapped persons, relief from general and additional duties is possible.

In ruling N328828 (Nov. 10, 2022), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) discussed the tariff classification of a Stainless Steel Grab Bar from China and its eligibility for duty-free treatment under the Nairobi Protocol.  The item’s construction ensured 1½ inches of space between the Grab Bar and the wall after installation.  The bar, which had a weight bearing capacity of 500 pounds, was designed and manufactured to provide safety and stability in the shower/bath for physically handicapped persons and was compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.  The manufacturer specialized in ADA-compliant safety grab bars and also produced other articles designed for handicapped persons (e.g., stair grab bars, safety hand bars with armrests, and swinging bathroom hand bars for hospitals and hotels).  The ruling requestor, Ever Home LLC, provided safety solutions and convenience to people requiring assistance with daily activities including standing, sitting, lying down or stabilizing, and specialized in selling safety shower grab bars for the physically disabled.

CBP first determined that the applicable primary subheading for the Grab Bar was 8302.41.6080 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), which provided for “Base metal mountings, fittings and similar articles… Other mountings, fittings, and similar articles, and parts thereof:  Suitable for buildings:  Other:  Of iron or steel, of aluminum or of zinc… Other.”  The rate of duty was 3.9% ad valorem

CBP then determined whether the Grab Bar was eligible for secondary classification and duty-free treatment under the Nairobi Protocol.  The Nairobi Protocol makes up Annex E to the international treaty known as the “Florence Agreement,” which the United States Congress codified under the “Education, Scientific, and Cultural Materials Act of 1982.”  The Nairobi Protocol’s codification established duty-free treatment for certain articles for the handicapped, which the United States implemented via the creation of subheadings 9817.00.92, 9817.00.94 and 9817.00.96, HTSUS.

In this ruling, CBP considered the Grab Bar’s eligibility for secondary classification under 9817.00.96, HTSUS, which applied to other articles specially designed or adapted for the use or benefit of physically or mentally handicapped persons (and parts and accessories thereof).  The relevant Chapter notes defined the term “blind or other physically or mentally handicapped persons” as including “any person suffering from a permanent or chronic physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, or working.” (Emphasis added).  In its analysis, CBP referenced HRL 556449 (May 5, 1992), which applied subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS, to grabrails “mounted to walls in and around showers and bath tubs” that were utilized for stabilization when entering or exiting showers or bath tubs.  CBP explained that, in past rulings, subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS, applied to grab bars/rails in bathrooms that (i) have a sufficient gap from the wall for grasping, (ii) are capable of sufficiently securing/attaching to a wall, and (iii) are sufficiently strong to take the full weight of a typical adult that would otherwise fall.  These factors approximate some of the requirements for grab bars/raise in public water closets described under the ADA Accessibility Guidelines.  The instant Grab Bar satisfied these factors and CBP likely reasoned that the Grab Bar was for use by persons suffering from an impairment that substantially limited major life activities, like bathing (i.e., caring for oneself).  Therefore, CBP ruled that 9817.00.96 secondary classification applied to the Stainless Steel Grab Bar, and the goods would enter duty-free.

Finally, Chinese-origin goods typically are subject to additional duties under U.S. Note 20 to Subchapter III, Chapter 99, HTSUS, pursuant to the ongoing trade action under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974.  However, additional Section 301 duties do not apply to goods for which entry is properly claimed under a provision of chapter 98 of the HTSUS (with some exceptions not applicable in this case).  Therefore, CBP also ruled that the Grab Bar—which was eligible for secondary classification under subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS—was not subject to the additional duties.