Thermal Papers and Customs Tariff (Federal Financial Court)

Federal Financial Court (BFH), judgement of 26 January 2016 – VII R 59/13.


In this decision of the BFH deals with the tariff classification according to the Combined Nomenclature (CN). Disputed was the classification of so-called Thermopapers- and labels and their customs tariff. Thermal papers are paper strips which have a temperature indication printed on the white side and have a black heat-sensitive coating on the back. Upon reaching the printed temperature, the test strip changes color irreversibly from white to black. The thermal labels consist of a five measurement points equipped and covered with a plastic film test strip. The measuring points are colored according to the printed temperature specifications in the respective temperature range.

The applicant sought a classification in positions with a customs tariff either duty-free or 2.1% respectively, the Hauptzollamt / HZA (Main Customs Authority), however chose a position that led to a duty of 6.5%. Therefore, it was in dispute, whether the thermal papers are temperature measuring devices or not. The applicant and the Finanzgericht agreed, but not the HZA. The Feder Financial Court presented this case for a preliminary ruling to the ECJ and subsequently ruled the thermal papers were to be classified as temperature gauges.