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A win for importer in the High Court of Australia

Win for importer in the High Court of Australia

A decision in the High Court is a welcome guidance for importers and their advisors.

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The High Court delivered its much-awaited judgment on Wednesday following a long-running tariff classification dispute between the Comptroller-General of Customs (Customs) and Pharma-A-Care.

The dispute arose about the correct classification under the Customs Tariff Act 1995 (Tariff Act) of garcinia preparations and vitamin gummies (the goods) imported by Pharma. Pharma-A-Care contended that the products were to be classified as ‘medicaments’ and therefore duty-free. Customs argued that the goods were properly classified as either ‘sugar confectionary’ or ‘other food preparations’. If so classified, the amount of duty payable would be either 5 percent or 4 percent of the customs value of the respectively.

Customs supported its argument by reference to the legal note to Chapter 30 of the Tariff Act, where medicaments are classified, which states that the chapter does not cover “foods or beverages”. Customs referred to the International Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (Harmonized Convention) that has been adopted in Schedule 3 of the Tariff Act, observing that the Harmonized Convention was translated to both the French and English. Customs emphasised that the French version of the applicable Note to the ‘medicaments’ chapter did not contain the same exclusion of "[f]oods or beverages" as it did in the English text. It followed in Customs’ view, that those exclusions in the English version were not intended to control the meaning.

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