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Tablet computers classifiable as computers and not as mobile

15th May, 2013

Machines commercially referred to as “Tablet Computers” are more appropriately classifiable in Heading 8471, sub-heading 8471 30 of the Customs Tariff and not under Heading 8517 as mobile phones.

Principal function

Circular No. 20/2013-Cus., dated 14-5-2013 issued by the Central Board of Customs & Excise, India, holds that the function as an Automatic Data Processing Machine (ADP) is the main function of the product, while the mobile phone calling function could be provided only as a supplementary function. It was noted that the latter function cannot be activated without running an operating system of the “Tablet Computer”, and further requires the use of a handset.

The size of the machine being too big for use principally as a mobile phone was also considered while it was held that tablet computers are not intended to be a substitute for a mobile phone to make voice calls, but, according to its main technical features is designed as a substitute for laptops. General Rules for Interpretation (GRI) of Import Tariff, 1 (Note 3 to Section XVI and Note 5 (A) to Chapter 84) and 6 were relied by the CBEC in this regard.

What is a tablet computer?            

The circular summarises the tablet computer as being able to process data, execute programs, and connect to the Internet via a wireless network in order to, for example, exchange and manage e-mails, exchange or download files, download software applications, conduct video or VoIP (“Voice over Internet Protocol”) communications, etc, and can also be connected to a cellular network to make voice calls.

This definition is identical to the one given by the World Customs Organisation's (WCO) Harmonized System Committee in the 50th Session in September, 2012. The WCO in the 49th session (March 2012) of the committee also considered certain machines commercially referred to as “tablet computers”, featuring Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity only, and classified them also under 8471 30. Interestingly, some time back the Russian Federal Customs Services had changed classification of such tablets with GPS facility, to navigators, from computers. As per the news item in L&S Corporate Amicus (April 2012 issue), only tablets of particular company were allowed customs clearance as computers.
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