Goods imported from outside the EU are subject to duty based on trade tariffs. In Bemis Limited v HMRC [2019] TC7332 the FTT considered whether a loo seat made mainly out of wood-flour should be classified as wood or plastic.

HMRC had reviewed the product, it was imported from the US.

  • In September 2012, HMRC issued a Binding Tariff Information (BTI) ruling, classifying the product as wood under code 4421 90 98 90.
  • In February 2014, HMRC issued a second BTI which again classified the product as wood, this time under code 4421 90 97 90.
  • On 7 March 2017, HMRC issued a third BTI which classified the product as plastic, under code 3922 20 00 00.

The effect of the ruling meant that the product was now subject to duty of 6.5%

The company appealed to the First Tier Tribunal.

The FTT found that:

the company’s toilet seats were sold and marketed as ‘wood’ although they were made from approximately 85% wood-flour, obtained from grinding sawdust, shavings or other wood waste and 15% phenolic resin.

It was clear that neither the wood-flour or resin alone could fulfil the function of the product.

The General Rules for the Interpretation of the Combined Nomenclature (“CN”) for tarifs (“GIRs”) are contained in s 1A of Pt 1 of Annex 1 to EU Council reg 2658/87. These provide a tie-breaker when goods made of composite materials cannot be classified by reference to earlier tests. They shall be classified under the heading which occurs last in numerical order among those which equally merit consideration.

As code 4421 90 97 90 occurs after 3922 20 00 00 the seats were classified as wood.


On this site we do not normally want to bog you down with decisions on excise duties and trade tariffs, however when the UK relieves itself of EU rules it is likely that there will be plentiful opportunities for new experts as the UK devises its own new rules and tariffs. An interesting prospect if you fancy a niche consultancy.

External links

Bemis Limited v HMRC [2019] TC7332