Monday, September 08, 2014

Ruling of the Week 7: Rum by Any Other Name

Alcohol Victoria is a 99 proof (49.5% alcohol by volume) neutral spirit beverage made of distilled sugarcane. This seems like something I would like to know more about. It does not seem to be rum, which is made from sugarcane byproducts such as molasses and cane juice. My understanding is that rum production was historically a means of using up material from the production of sugar. Alcohol Victoria must be different in that it is made directly from cane.

Does that make it similar to Cachaca? This Brazilian product is the chief ingredient of the caipirinha, one of my favorite summer cocktails. It is distilled from sugarcane juice. Alcohol Victoria might also be similar to CSR, a potent spirit made in St. Kitts.

The caipirinha.

The question in HQ H197914 (Jun. 25, 2014) is how to classify Alcohol Victoria. There was no disagreement on the correct heading, which is 2208. That heading covers "spirits, liqueurs and other spirituous beverages." It might be classified in 2208.40 as "Rum and other spirits obtained by distilling fermented sugar-cane products." That seems easy enough.

But, Alcohol Victoria is "neutral," which means that it has no secondary characteristics associated with the sugar cane from which it was produced.  It turns out that the Explanatory Notes define vodka as something "obtained by distilling fermented mash of agricultural origin (e.g., cereal, potatoes) . . . ." The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau defines vodka as a neutral spirit without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color. Thus, the Alcohol Victoria could also be classified in 2208.60.

Along the way to resolving this conundrum, Customs noted that this product is not a liqueur or cordial because it does not have any added flavoring.

That leaves us with two subheadings that apply to the merchandise. So, what to do? Keep in mind that because we know the correct heading and are focused only on finding the correct subheading, General Rule of Interpretation 6 applies. That means we apply the Section and Chapter Notes to the subheadings as applicable and then apply the GRI in order to the subheadings. That takes us to GRI 3(a), which tells us that when two or more subheadings apply to the same product, the subheading with the more specific description of the product will prevail. The subheading that includes characteristics or requirements that are more difficult to satisfy is the more specific subheading.

In this case, the subheading for rum identifies the specific raw material from which the product is to be made, i.e., fermented sugarcane products. Vodka, it turns out, can be made from any agricultural material. Based on that, Alcohol Victoria is rum of 2208.40 after all.

We can now return to our end of summer cocktails secure in that knowledge.

[Note: Updated as per the comment below.]

1 comment:

Jim said...

Not to be too picky here, Larry, but your inconsistency in prefixes might be misleading. Your quote of GRI 3(a) should read, "...when two or more headings apply to the same product, the heading with the more specific description...". And by extension, the GRI 6 application should be, "...when two or more subheadings apply to the same product, the subheading with the more specific description..."