“Multipurpose” vehicles equal multiple choices in classification

Harmonised System, the international language of trade for 30 years

31 October 2018

Consumers were delighted when a pick-up vehicle with a double cabin for five persons and an open rear platform for loading goods up to 150 kg at the same time came out. But, was it good news for customs officers and traders to see the new products at the border? Actually, it caused them quite a few headaches as they had to answer the question: Is it a passenger vehicle or a cargo vehicle?

The question comes from the HS Nomenclature which provides heading 87.03 for motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons and heading 87.04 for motor vehicles for the transport of goods respectively.

The first version of the HS Nomenclature did not provide clear guidelines to distinguish the vehicles of headings 87.03 and 87.04, as these comfortable work vehicles were a new phenomenon. There were many requests from Contracting Parties to the HS Committee to examine the classification of various multipurpose vehicles (e.g., pick-up vehicles, van-type vehicles, station wagons and sports utility vehicles) which might fall, prima facie, in both headings.

The HS Committee, since its 3rd Session in 1989, had examined the classification of multipurpose vehicles used both for the transport of persons and goods. They even examined several samples of real vehicles during the Committee meetings. While classification decisions were taken, it took more than a decade of study and discussion to, at its 28th Session in 2001, finally adopt the amendments to the HS Explanatory Notes of headings 87.03 and 87.04 to insert the indicative design characteristics generally applicable to the vehicles of two headings. The amendments were published in 2002 and remain the same in the current version.

What makes a trusty work vehicle suitable as a passenger vehicle? According to these guidelines, features such as, for example, permanent rear seats with properly installed safety seat belts and rear windows for passengers to see out of, and some comforts such as lights, air vents and carpets in a pick-up vehicle could help indicate that the vehicle was designed as a passenger vehicle of heading 87.03.

But, like many issues on the tariff, there are still new questions about identifying passenger vehicles from cargo vehicles, so we may yet see more vehicles being inspected in front of the WCO!