It has been almost 30 years since a court has ruled on what constitutes a handbag for purposes of determining the correct import duty. Yet, everywhere you look, from the sidewalk to the subway, women’s handbags are clearly getting bigger. The bags’ intended purpose hasn’t changed, but styles have; bigger bags have become the norm.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Customs) imposes a four-percent higher duty on plastic handbags if they are classified as “travel bags” rather than “handbags” under the Harmonized Tariff Schedules (HTS). While Customs has established rules for determining whether an article is classified as a handbag or travel bag, Customs’ classification of these articles may not have not kept up with fashion. The result is that importers are forced to classify their ever-larger plastic handbags into the higher-duty travel bag tariff provisions. For years, importers have relied upon a size test for determining the tariff classification of handbags; e.g., bags that are smaller than 12” (W) x 9” (H) are handbags. This simple metric has always masked more than it has revealed and, as bags grow bigger, it has become increasingly meaningless. Size is becoming less and less indicative of the use for which a bag was intended.