Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ruling of the Week 2015.28: Billiards Procurement

Governments buy all kinds of unexpected stuff. Billiards tables, for example.

In HQ H268491 (Oct. 15, 2015), U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a final determination on the country of origin of certain billiards tables for purposes of government procurement under the Trade Agreements Act of 1979. These rulings are not your run of the mill origin determination for purposes of labeling or duty determinations. Rather, an interested party may ask CBP for either an advisory or final decision on whether an article is a product of a designated country or instrumentality for purposes of securing a waiver of the "Buy American" rules for goods offered for sale to the U.S. Government.

This ruling involves four billiards tables assembled in the United States from components from various countries. The components are shipped to the customer and the tables are assembled on-site. It is sufficient to understand that there are a lot of steps and a lot of parts. Also, the assembly requires the careful leveling of the slate surfaces to ensure a flat table. For one of the tables, as an example, the U.S.-origin components and assembly operation is 43% of the total cost. Other components come from Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Taiwan.

Under the applicable origin rules, the billiard tables will be products of the United States if the non-U.S. materials have been substantially transformed into a new and different article of commerce with a new name, character, or use distinct from that of the imported article. 19 USC § 2518(4)(B). In making these decisions, Customs applies its analysis consistent with the Federal Acquisition Regulations that require the U.S. Government to purchase U.S.-made products or products of designated countries. The FAR uses the same substantial transformation test.

With that framework, Customs looked at the assembly operations involved. It compared the process to prior decisions concerning furniture assembly. Customs found that the assembly of between 71 and 91 individual components required two skilled and trained workers was "complex and meaningful." The process transforms the components into a new and distinct article of commerce, i.e., a billiards table. As a result, the tables are products of the U.S. and the U.S. government is cleared to purchase these billiards tables.

Here are some trick shots from a GoPro ad, for your work-day amusement.

That's all well and good. But, I have a far less important question. Aren't these actually pool tables? The ruling discusses the gutter system used for the ball return. That means there are pockets (or "holes") in the table. As a youngster, I spent some time in a bowling alley/pool hall owned by my grandfather, Sam Friedman. I was lead to believe that billiards is the largely-English game of knocking cue balls and strikers around a table for no apparent reason. Pool, on the other hand, is the game of The Hustler in which a white cue is used to strike colored balls into pockets, usually for money. None of this should be confused with snooker, whatever the heck that is. Pool is sometimes called "pocket billiards," which is good for purposes of disambiguation. Am I right that there is a difference or am I failing to understand that American English is full of imprecise usage?

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