On 19 February 2009, a judgment was given by the European Court of Justice ("ECJ") in the 'Kamino' case (C-376/07).

This case concerned the classification of LCD monitors with the following specifications: screensize of 53.48 x 46.55 x 24.84 cm (w x h x d) with a 58.42 cm (23 inch) diagonal measurement; maximum resolution of 1 920 x 1 200 pixels; screen aspect ratio of 16:10; horizontal picture frequency of 30 to 81 kHz; vertical picture frequency of 50 to 76 Hz; brightness of 250 candela per square metre; 16.7 million colours and a contrast ratio of 500:1.

According to the Dutch customs authorities, these LCD monitors had to be classified under subheading 8528 21 90 (14% duty rate) whilst Kamino took the view that these monitors were classifiable under subheading 8471 60 90 (0% duty rate).

Questions referred for a preliminary ruling

The Dutch Supreme Court decided to refer the following questions to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling:

  1. Must Note 5 to Chapter 84 of the ... CN ... be interpreted as meaning that a colour monitor which can display both signals from an automatic data-processing machine as referred to in heading 8471 ... and from other sources is excluded from classification under heading 8471 ...?
  2. If classification in heading 8471 ... of the ... monitor referred to in the first question above is not excluded, on the basis of which criteria must it then be determined whether it is a unit of the sort that is solely or principally used in an automatic data-processing system?
  3. Does the scope of application of ... Regulation ... No 754/2004 ... extend to the monitor at issue and, if so, in light of the answers to the first and second questions, is that regulation valid?

Judgment of the ECJ

The ECJ ruled that classification of the monitors such as those at issue in subheading 8471 60 90, as units of the kind used 'principally' in an automatic data-processing system within the meaning of Note 5(B)(a) to Chapter 84 of the CN is not precluded on the sole ground that they are capable of displaying signals coming from both an automatic data-processing machine and from other sources.

1. In other words, LCD monitors which can not only display signals from a computer but also from other sources (e.g. DVD player, games console, etc) can not for this reason alone be precluded from being classified under subheading 8471 60 90 since they may still be of a kind used 'principally' with a computer.

2. In order to determine whether monitors such as those at issue are units of the kind used principally in an automatic data-processing system, the national authorities, including the courts, must refer to the indications given in the Explanatory Notes relating to heading 8471 of the HS, in particular to points 1 to 5 of Part One, Chapter I(D), relating to display units of automatic data-processing machines:

  • standard connection sockets for computers
  • intended to be viewed close up
  • cannot display television signals
  • low magnetic field emissions
  • display pitch starts at 0.41 mm for medium resolution and gets smaller as the resolution increases
  • bandwith (video frequency) is 15 MHz or greater
  • dimension of the pixels on the screen is smaller thatn for video monitors in heading 8528
  • convergence of computer monitors is greater than for video monitors

3. With regard to the applicability of Regulation 754/2004 ("Regulation") to the monitors at issue, the ECJ decided that this Regulation did not apply. According to the ECJ, the plasma monitors mentioned in the Regulation are not identical nor sufficiently similar to apply this Regulation to the monitors at issue. The monitor mentioned in the Regulation concerned a plasma screen with a diagonal screen measurement of 41.73 inches and a resolution of 852 x 480 pixels and 1024 x 1024 pixels respectively, whilst the monitor at issue concerned an LCD screen with a diagonal screen measurement of 23 inches and a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels.

Conclusion

With its judgment that monitors which can display signals from computers as well as from other sources can not for this reason alone be excluded from classification under subheading 8471 60 90, the ECJ has clarified part of the ongoing dispute on the proper classification of LCD monitors. It is now up to the national courts and the customs administrations of the different Member States to apply the criteria as set out in the Explanatory Notes to heading 8471 of the HS, in particular points 1 to 5 of Part One, Chapter I(D) when determining whether these LCD monitors are to be considered of the kind used 'principally' with a computer.