Readers can file this one under ‘exotic’. The title of this piece does not quite give it away yet: this post is a serious post on customs classification.
My wife and I have a more than average size family, ditto therefore also the family car. Our previous version was black. We had parked it a few summers ago on the village square close to the home of one of my sisters in law, a sleepy French hamlet. A local lady came up to me and asked respectfully who had passed away… She mistook our car for a hearse, leading to my brother-in-law suggesting I should put some stickers up saying ‘ceci n’est pas un corbillard’.
Now, to the serious issue: in Case C-445/17 Pilato, the Court of Justice was asked (the case was triggered by a BTI: Binding Tariff Information) how to classify a hearse under the EU’s combined nomenclature: heading 8704 (motor vehicles for the transport of goods); 8705 (special purpose motor vehicles, other than those principally designed for the transport of persons or goods (for example, breakdown lorries, crane lorries, fire fighting vehicles, concrete-mixer lorries, road sweeper lorries, spraying lorries, mobile workshops, mobile radiological units); or 8703 (Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons (other than those of heading 8702), including station wagons and racing cars).
The Italian customs authorities have classified under 8703 – the importer is appealing, I am assuming given the higher tariff attracted by that heading. Arguments are very serious and technical, as one would expect for customs classification: details on separation racks, etc.
The Court held Wednesday last: at 25: the intended use of a product may constitute an objective criterion for classification; at 30: hearses are particularly built and equipped for the transport of coffins, which contain corpses. A human body, even lifeless, cannot be treated in the same way as goods which may be the subject, as such, of commercial transactions. Therefore, the principal use of hearses is for the transport of persons. 8703 it is (the Court gives some more reasons).
Exactly the kind of case which makes trade classes a little lighter a the right time (the best case for that, ever, involved my wife having to classify a shipment of toy replica. Details on that case I fear are strictly for students of my WTO class).