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EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES - CUSTOMS CLASSIFICATION
Report of the Appellate Body
WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION
1. The European Communities appeals from certain issues of law covered in the Panel Report, European Communities - Customs Classification of Certain Computer Equipment1 (the "Panel Report") and certain legal interpretations developed by the Panel in that Report. The Panel was established to consider complaints by the United States against the European Communities, Ireland and the United Kingdom concerning the tariff treatment of Local Area Network ("LAN") equipment and personal computers with multimedia capability ("PCs with multimedia capability")2. The United States claimed that the European Communities, Ireland and the United Kingdom accorded to LAN equipment and/or PCs with multimedia capability treatment less favourable than that provided for in Schedule LXXX of the European Communities3 ("Schedule LXXX") and, therefore, acted inconsistently with their obligations under Article II:1 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 (the "GATT 1994").
2. The Panel Report was circulated to the Members of the World Trade Organization (the "WTO") on 5 February 1998. The Panel reached the conclusion that:
3. On 24 March 1998, the European Communities notified the DSB6 of its intention to appeal certain issues of law covered in the Panel Report and legal interpretations developed by the Panel, pursuant to paragraph 4 of Article 16 of the Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes (the "DSU"), and filed a Notice of Appeal with the Appellate Body, pursuant to Rule 20 of the Working Procedures for Appellate Review (the "Working Procedures"). On 3 April 1998, the European Communities filed an appellant's submission.7 On 20 April 1998, the United States filed an appellee's submission8 and on the same day, Japan filed a third participant's submission.9 The oral hearing, provided for in Rule 27 of the Working Procedures, was held on 27 April 1998. At the oral hearing, the participants and the third participant presented their arguments and answered questions from the Division of the Appellate Body hearing the appeal.
II. Arguments of the Participants
4. The European Communities requests the Appellate Body to review a number of errors of law and certain legal interpretations developed by the Panel. The European Communities submits that the Panel erred in law when it rejected the procedural objections of the European Communities concerning the lack of specificity of the request for the establishment of a panel of the United States, thus hampering the rights of defence of the responding Member and violating Article 6.2 of the DSU. The European Communities asserts that the Panel also erred in considering that the meaning of a particular heading of the Schedule of a WTO Member should be read in the light of the "legitimate expectations" of an exporting Member outside the context of a non-violation complaint under Article XXIII:1(b) of the GATT 1994. The European Communities also asserts that the Panel erred in finding that Article II:5 of the GATT 1994 confirms this view. Subordinately, the European Communities argues that even if the notion of "legitimate expectations" was relevant in the context of a violation complaint under Article XXIII:1(a) of the GATT 1994, those legitimate expectations should not be based on the classification practices for individual importers and individual consignments, or on the subjective perception of a number of exporting companies of an exporting Member. The European Communities submits that the Panel also erred in considering that, in any case, the onus of clarifying the scope of a tariff concession during a multilateral tariff negotiation under the auspices of the GATT/WTO shall necessarily be on the importing Member. The European Communities asserts that by so doing, the Panel has created new rules on the burden of proof which are inconsistent with the ones applicable to WTO dispute settlement procedures.
6. With respect to the identification of the specific measures at issue, the European Communities submits that the request of the United States for the establishment of a panel does not meet the minimum standards contained in Article 6.2 of the DSU. The European Communities asserts that in European Communities Regime for the Importation, Sale and Distribution of Bananas11 ("European Communities Bananas"), the Appellate Body confirmed that the measures at issue in that dispute were adequately identified under Article 6.2 of the DSU by referring to the basic EC regulation at issue, by place and date of publication, in the request for the establishment of a panel. The European Communities states that this reading of Article 6.2 of the DSU, pursuant to which the request must at least specify one basic legal measure, is fully in line with the general rules of interpretation of public international law. In the view of the European Communities, the request of the United States for the establishment of a panel only identifies one specific measure, namely Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1165/95, which is said to "reclassify" LAN adapter cards and which, unlike the regulation at issue in European Communities - Bananas, is not a basic measure on which all the other actions complained about are founded. In response to a question asked at the oral hearing, the European Communities expressly accepted that the application of a tariff in an individual case on a consignment is a measure within the meaning of Article 6.2 of the DSU. However, in the view of the European Communities, the measures in question are only vaguely described in the request of the United States for the establishment of a panel. The type of measure, the responsible authority, the date of issue or the reference are not clearly defined. Furthermore, the European Communities argues that it is even unclear how many of these alleged measures are under dispute.
7. The European Communities also submits that under the minimum standard laid down in Article 6.2 of the DSU, relating to the identification of specific measures, it is also necessary to clearly define the product coverage of a claim raised in the framework of a dispute settlement procedure. The European Communities asserts that the Panel erroneously distinguished the present case from EEC Quantitative Restrictions Against Imports of Certain Products from Hong Kong12("EEC - Quantitative Restrictions Against Hong Kong") when holding that no new product was added by the United States in the course of the proceedings, and that the definition of LAN equipment provided by the United States, in responding to a question by the Panel, was an elucidation of the product coverage already specified in the request of the United States for the establishment of a panel. According to the European Communities, this reasoning is based on at least two flawed assumptions: first, that LAN equipment and PCs with multimedia capability could each be considered as a single product; and, second, that the explanations of the United States before the Panel concerning product coverage were an "elucidation" rather than an unlawful "curing" of the defective product description in the request for the establishment of a panel.
8. With respect to the first assumption, the European Communities submits that LAN equipment is not a single product but a wide variety of different products used in a local area network. Furthermore, the United States has not been consistent regarding the definition of LAN equipment in the course of the panel proceedings. The European Communities also asserts that, like LAN equipment, PCs with multimedia capability are not a single product category. It is further argued by the European Communities that using such broad product categories when defining the scope of a claim is equivalent to adding the convenient phrase "including but not necessarily limited to" in the request for the establishment of a panel. In the view of the European Communities, the Appellate Body in India - Patent Protection for Pharmaceutical and Agricultural Chemical Products13 ("India - Patents") vigorously rejected the use of this kind of loose language when holding that "the convenient phrase, 'including but not necessarily limited to', is simply not adequate to 'identify the specific measures at issue and provide a brief summary of the legal basis of the complaint sufficient to present the problem clearly' as required by Article 6.2 of the DSU".14
9. The European Communities submits that the second assumption on which the Panel based its reasoning was that the United States elucidated the product coverage of its panel request. The European Communities argues that the Panel appeared to agree that the United States had left the precise scope of the dispute in the dark and, after the first meeting of the Panel with the parties, allowed the United States to provide a definitive list of products with respect to which it alleged there had been a violation. The European Communities asserts that the Panel accepted this list as an "elucidation" and sufficient specification of the product coverage, thus regarding the vague product definition of the United States as cured. In the view of the European Communities, this finding of the Panel amounts to an error in law.
10. The European Communities asserts that in any judicial or quasi-judicial procedure, it is an essential procedural right of the responding party to be aware of the case held against it, and that the WTO dispute settlement system can only produce acceptable solutions to conflicts between WTO Members if this fundamental rule of due process is adequately observed. The European Communities submits that the Appellate Body should, therefore, guarantee this essential procedural right by continuing to interpret Article 6.2 of the DSU strictly.
11. According to the European Communities, the existence of a common intention forms the basis for the mutual consent of the signatories to be bound by an international agreement. This common intention finds its authentic expression in the text of the treaty, not in the subjective expectations of one or other of the parties to the agreement. The European Communities states that the rules of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties15 (the "Vienna Convention") on the interpretation of international agreements are based on this fundamental consideration. Furthermore, the European Communities asserts that the report in Panel on Newsprint16 is based on the correct assumption that a Schedule is an agreed commitment between the contracting parties and is not just the unilateral perception of one of the Members involved in the multilateral negotiations. The European Communities also submits that "protocols and certifications relating to tariff concessions" are an integral part of the GATT 199417 and, therefore, are part of an international multilateral agreement which is the result of a "meeting of the minds" and not the sum of subjective perceptions or expectations.
12. The European Communities asserts that the complaint of the United States was founded only on the allegation that the European Communities had violated its obligations under Article II:1 of the GATT 1994, which indicates that the claim was based only on Article XXIII:1(a) of the GATT 1994. The European Communities also submits that it appears that, when presenting its legal position, the United States used the notion of "reasonable expectations" and "legitimate expectations" as synonymous. The European Communities states that the Panel has not drawn any particular conclusion from the varied definitions of this notion and has apparently, albeit implicitly, decided to consider that the two definitions can be used indifferently to describe the same concept. In the view of the European Communities, the same approach was used by the Appellate Body, in paragraphs 41 42 of its Report in India - Patents and, therefore, the European Communities suggests that for the sake of this appeal, the Appellate Body continues to consider the notion of "legitimate expectations" used by the Panel and the parties to this dispute as equivalent to that of "reasonable expectations".
13. The European Communities submits that the Panel erred in law by not considering the object and purpose of the tariff concession in Schedule LXXX with respect to the products concerned but rather a supposed and erroneous object and purpose of Article II of the GATT 1994, i.e., the protection of "legitimate expectations". In the view of the European Communities, the Panel should have proceeded, pursuant to Article 31 of the Vienna Convention, with the interpretation of the words used in Schedule LXXX in the light of their object and purpose and within their context. The European Communities asserts that the context of the Schedule must include the negotiations, the legal situation in both the exporting and importing Members (including the classification practice of the United States during the entire period of the negotiations), the EC internal legislation applicable to such tariff treatment, the EC customs nomenclature existing at the time of the drafting of the Schedule and so on. Responding to a question asked by the Appellate Body during the oral hearing, the European Communities stated that on the basis of Article 31(3)(c) of the Vienna Convention, the International Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System 18(the "Harmonized System") and its Explanatory Notes19 would be relevant in interpreting the obligations of the European Communities under Schedule LXXX vis-à-vis WTO Members which are also Members of the World Customs Organization (the "WCO").
14. The European Communities argues that the Panel limited itself to an unmotivated affirmation that the context to be considered pursuant to Article 31 of the Vienna Convention was only Article II of the GATT 1994, and has proceeded to the totally separate and not directly relevant interpretation of the object and purpose of Article II and not of the Schedule. The European Communities asserts that "even more erroneously, [the Panel's] interpretation of Article II has been achieved through the reference to previous case law in a non-violation case, notwithstanding the fact that the present procedure is only concerned with a violation complaint".20 Therefore, the context that the present Panel considered to be relevant for the interpretation of Schedule LXXX in a violation complaint has been deduced from the interpretation of Article II in a non-violation complaint. The European Communities further asserts that in paragraph 36 of the Appellate Body Report in India - Patents, the Appellate Body clearly indicates that the concept of the protection of reasonable expectations of contracting parties relating to market access was developed in the context of non-violation complaints under Article XXIII:1(b) of the GATT. Thus, according to the European Communities, the Panel's finding in paragraph 8.23 contradicts this interpretation and "melds the legally-distinct bases for 'violation' and 'non-violation' complaints under Article XXIII of the GATT 1994 into a uniform cause of action"21 which is not consistent with Article XXIII.
15. It is further argued by the European Communities that, independently of the legal issues that were at stake in the two dispute settlement procedures, there is an extraordinary resemblance in the legal approach followed by the panel in India - Patents and that followed by the present Panel. The European Communities submits that as in India - Patents, this Panel: (i) was not about an Article XXIII:1(b) "non-violation" complaint but only about an Article XXIII:1(a) "violation" complaint; (ii) was not about a violation complaint concerning Articles III or XI of the GATT; (iii) was not concerned with the affectation of competitive relationship between imported and domestic products, but rather with the tariff treatment of certain products compared to the concessions scheduled by the European Communities in the WTO; and (iv) has considered the "legitimate expectations" of the parties not by examining whether they were reflected in the words of the treaty -- Schedule LXXX in this case but rather by "imputing" into the treaty considerations and subjective "understandings" which the Panel has considered to be the expectations of a Member and of private companies involved in the trade of the covered products and which were never reflected in the wording of the Schedule.
16. The European Communities also submits that the Panel's findings lead to "absurd practical consequences".22 The European Communities questions how it is possible to determine the content of MFN tariff treatment on the basis of the "legitimate expectations" of one Member among all WTO Members. If the "legitimate expectations" of that Member diverges from the "legitimate expectations" of other Members, the consequence would be that a Member, in order to know exactly what is the tariff treatment to grant a given product, would have to verify the potentially divergent "legitimate expectations" of all other WTO Members. This is at odds with the aim affirmed by the Panel to protect the predictability and stability of the tariff treatment of that particular product. Moreover, in the view of the European Communities, the balance of mutual concessions among Members, which is the result of the successive rounds of tariff negotiations in the framework of the GATT/WTO, would be severely upset: the "legitimate expectations" of one Member would, through the MFN provision, apply to all other Members whose balance of reciprocal concessions was based on substantially different and variable "legitimate expectations". The European Communities further claims that, if the Panel's findings on this point were upheld, the whole purpose of Article II of the GATT 1994 and of the Members' Schedules would be altered. In the view of the European Communities, a tariff concession bound by a Member in its Schedule would no longer define a limit to the duty applicable upon importation of a given product, but would rather be determined by a unilateral perception of the advantages expected by the exporting Member.
17. The European Communities submits that the Panel violated the rules of interpretation of Articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention and Articles 3.2 and 19.2 of the DSU by affirming that "[although] in nearly all instances, the ordinary meaning of the terms of the actual description in a tariff schedule accurately reflects and exhausts the content of the legitimate expectations ... [i]t must remain possible, at least in principle, that parties have legitimately formed expectations based on other particular supplementary factors".23 According to the European Communities, what the Panel appears to pronounce here is the power to add elements which are not present in the text of the Schedules whereas, under Articles 3.2 and 19.2 of the DSU, a panel is required simply to clarify the provisions of the covered agreements. The European Communities submits that this would inevitably alter the very nature of the panel procedure which would be seen as replacing, or attempting to replace, the signatories of the WTO Agreement.
18. It is further claimed by the European Communities that the Panel erred by stating that the importance of "legitimate expectations" in interpreting tariff commitments can be confirmed by the text of Article II:5 of the GATT 1994. The European Communities submits that the Panel made two contradictory statements. On the one hand, the Panel stated that Article II:5 confirms the existence of the "legitimate expectations" in Article II:1. One the other hand, however, it stated that Article II:5 is a provision for the special bilateral procedure regarding tariff classification, which is not directly at issue in this case. In the view of the European Communities, there is a clear non-sequitur between the affirmation of the inapplicability of Article II:5 to the present case and its use for the interpretation of a different provision which is declared applicable to this case. According to the European Communities, either Article II:5 is relevant and applicable to the present case, in particular for the interpretation of Schedule LXXX, or it is not. It cannot be both at the same time. It is further argued by the European Communities that the only relevance of Article II:5 of the GATT 1994 could have been in the context of a procedure aimed at requesting a compensatory adjustment, which was never pursued by the United States. Thus, according to the European Communities, if the Panel was of the opinion that Article II:5 was relevant, it should have come to the conclusion that it was only relevant in establishing that the United States had never correctly followed it. Alternatively, the European Communities argues that Article II:5 is simply irrelevant.
19. The European Communities also submits that Article II:5 does not prove the existence of a notion of "legitimate expectations" in Article II of the GATT 1994 or, more generally, in the tariff treatment of a given product under the Schedule of a Member. The European Communities notes that the words "believes to have been contemplated" and "contemplated" in the first and second sentence of this provision are highlighted in the Panel Report and, therefore, argues that the Panel attached a special value to them in order to support its findings. The European Communities cannot see how these words, read in their context, could in any way be assimilated to the notion of "legitimate expectations" that was developed in the context of non-violation cases. In the view of the European Communities, there is nothing in the words "believes" or "contemplated" that indicates any reference to an objective entitlement to a tariff treatment that would be different from the one that derives from the objective interpretation of the content of the Schedule of the importing Member.
20. In the event that the Appellate Body considers that the notion of "legitimate/reasonable expectations" is relevant in the context of a violation dispute under Article XXIII:1(a) of the GATT 1994, the European Communities submits the following arguments for its consideration. According to the European Communities, the core of the Panel's argument regarding the notion of "legitimate expectations" can be summarized as follows: during a multilateral trade negotiation, the tariff treatment of a given product subject to negotiation is considered with respect to the "actual normal" tariff treatment at the time of the negotiation, unless there is a "manifestly anomalous" treatment that would indicate "the contrary". Therefore, the meaning of the tariff treatment which is bound in the importing Member's Schedule must correspond to the "actual normal" tariff treatment at the time of the negotiation. Otherwise, there will be a breach of the "legitimate expectations" of the exporting Member and, therefore, a violation of Article II:1 of the GATT 1994.
21. The European Communities submits that the Panel's reasoning is affected by errors in law and in logic in at least three respects. First, the European Communities argues that a duty imposed at a level which is currently lower than the duty bound in a Schedule does not constitute a right for the Members which temporarily benefit from the reduction. Second, the European Communities submits that it is not correct to assert, as the Panel does, that the current duty treatment is taken as the basis for the negotiations and, therefore, that treatment will be continued unless such treatment is manifestly anomalous or there is information readily available to the exporting Member that clearly indicates the contrary. Third, the European Communities argues that elements of subjective judgement such as "normally based", "manifestly anomalous", "information readily available" and "clearly indicates" are not legal elements that must, or even can, be taken into account when interpreting a Member's Schedule and/or Article II of the GATT 1994. These subjective appreciations are not included in Articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention. Thus, in the view of the European Communities, irrespective of the existence of any normality or abnormality, or of information readily or not readily available, the actual or current tariff treatment of a certain product could not be considered as an obligation under Article II if it cannot be demonstrated that it is reflected in the Schedule.
22. The European Communities also submits that the Panel should not have dealt with classification issues as the WTO system does deal with these issues in the covered agreements. According to the European Communities, there is no obligation under the GATT to follow any particular system for classifying goods, and a Member has the right to introduce in its customs tariff new positions or sub-positions as appropriate. The European Communities also argues that "[w]hat the Panel has de facto done here is weighing the number of individual EC classification decisions presented as evidence by the US against the opposite EC individual classification decisions presented as evidence by the EC in order to achieve the result that the former are correct and the latter are not".24 The European Communities asserts that this is nothing less than a classification decision by the Panel in spite of the fact that the Panel itself rightly considers classification issues to be outside its terms of reference.
23. The European Communities submits that the Panel erred in considering that the onus of clarifying the scope of a tariff concession during a multilateral tariff negotiation under the auspices of the GATT/WTO shall necessarily be placed on the side of the importing Member. In the view of the European Communities, the issue at stake in this dispute is not whether a requirement of clarification was on the United States or on the European Communities, but rather whether the agreement, which the United States claims it reached with the European Communities and other WTO Members, on certain tariff treatment of LAN equipment, really existed and was reflected in Schedule LXXX.
24. The European Communities asserts that the Panel dedicated three pages to the totally irrelevant issue of the burden of "clarification", which is treated separately from the issue of whether the United States has proven its assertion that Schedule LXXX contains an obligation to provide tariff treatment lower than the one applied. It is further argued by the European Communities that the Panel cannot rely on two contradictory assertions at the same time. Either the burden of proof and the burden of clarification are different notions, in which case the Panel should have explained to the parties and to the Members of the WTO how this is relevant in the present dispute, or the burden of clarification is identical with the notion of burden of proof or has, in any case, a bearing on the burden of proof in such a way as to determine a different distribution of that burden between the party which asserts and the party which responds.
25. The European Communities submits that in this second scenario, the Panel has in fact created a newly invented rule on the burden of proof. According to this burden of proof, "the exporting Member that could show the existence of practices on the current classification of individual shipments by some 'prevailing' customs authorities of a Member would have proved its assertion that a tariff treatment was agreed in the Schedule, ... irrespective of whether it has actually proved that the existence of the agreement on a certain tariff treatment was actually reflected in the text of the agreement (or of the agreed Schedule). The burden of clarifying the content of the Schedule is on the importing Member: as a result, that Member is to blame for any misunderstanding".25
26. The European Communities cannot agree with this newly invented rule. This rule would allow the Member who asserts that a certain agreement was passed on the tariff treatment of a given product to shift the burden of proof to the responding Member without any need to submit evidence related to the words of the agreement. In the view of the European Communities, the result of such an "easy" shift of the burden of proof on the responding Member would be that, failing any written document, it would find itself in the practical impossibility of rebutting that assumption. An assertion would amount to a proof, and an almost unrebuttable one, which is fundamentally at odds with the finding of the Appellate Body in United States - Measure Affecting Imports of Woven Wool Shirts and Blouses from India26 ("United States - Shirts and Blouses").
1. WT/DS62/R, WT/DS67/R and WT/DS68/R, 5 February 1998.
2. The United States submitted three requests for the establishment of a panel: European Communities - Customs Classification of Certain Computer Equipment, WT/DS62/4, 13 February 1997; United Kingdom - Customs Classification of Certain Computer Equipment, WT/DS67/3, 10 March 1997; and Ireland ? Customs Classification of Certain Computer Equipment, WT/DS68/2, 10 March 1997. At its meeting of 20 March 1997, the Dispute Settlement Body (the "DSB") agreed to modify, at the request of the parties to the dispute, the terms of reference of the Panel established against the European Communities, so that the panel requests by the United States contained in documents WT/DS67/3 and WT/DS68/2 might be incorporated into the mandate of the Panel established pursuant to document WT/DS62/4. See WT/DS62/5, 25 April 1997.
3. Schedule LXXX of the European Communities, Final Act Embodying the Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations, done at Marrakesh, 15 April 1994.
4. Panel Report, para. 9.1.
5. Panel Report, para. 9.2.
6. WT/DS62/8, WT/DS67/6 and WT/DS68/5, 24 March 1998.
7. Pursuant to Rule 21(1) of the Working Procedures.
8. Pursuant to Rule 22 of the Working Procedures.
9. Pursuant to Rule 24 of the Working Procedures.
10. Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1165/95 of 23 May 1995 concerning the classification of certain goods in the combined nomenclature, Official Journal No. L 117, 24 May 1995, p. 15.
14. Ibid., para. 90.
15. Done at Vienna, 23 May 1969, 1155 U.N.T.S. 331; 8 International Legal Materials 679.
16. Adopted 20 November 1984, BISD 31S/114.
17. See paragraph 1(b)(i) of the language of Annex 1 A incorporating the GATT 1994 into the
Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization (the "WTO
Agreement"), done at Marrakesh, Morocco, 15 April 1994
19. Explanatory Notes to the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, Customs Cooperation Council, Brussels, 1986.
20. Appellant's submission of the European Communities, para. 50
21. Appellate Body Report, India - Patents, adopted 16 January 1998, WT/DS50/AB/R, para. 42.
24. Appellant's submission of the European Communities, para. 82.
25. Appellant's submission of the European Communities, para. 88.
26. Adopted 23 May 1997, WT/DS33/AB/R.