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What is a Certificate of Origin?

June 22, 2022, by Keith Jaco

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What is a Certificate of Origin?


A certificate of origin is documentation providing the original country where a commodity was manufactured or produced. This certificate is necessary for the customs clearance process in most countries.


Purpose and Need for a Certificate of Origin


When importing and exporting items, it is important for both parties to know the details of the shipment. The CO tells the country an item is entering where this particular commodity was created. This is important because the origin will dictate the type of duties or taxes applicable to that certain import. This is also important because the CO will give details that will ensure the item’s eligibility to be in the imported country.

In addition to the origin of the item, a CO gives details such as destination, country of export, or any other item specifications. This explains why we see the phrase “Made in China,” Made in Vietnam,” or Made in USA” on many of our everyday items. In most cases, when shipping freight, you will need to present the CO for your shipment in order to meet the requirements of customs clearance officials. Failure to do so can result in delays and the rejection of your freight shipment to its destination country.


Two Types of CO and When Each Apply


There is no standard by which certificates of origin are governed. They can and will vary from country to country. Despite this, a majority of COs will include much of the same content. This includes the origin and destination, exporter and importer, basic details of the product, and a harmonized system code. And while COs remain mainly the same, two distinguishable traits separate the two types, preferential and non-preferential.


Preferential Certificate of Origin – These are COs that guarantee reduced tariffs or the elimination of tariffs on hundreds of different products. This is thanks to the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a U.S. trade preference program that provides poor or third-world countries the opportunity to receive trade discounts. There are currently 119 countries and territories on the GSP list. Some countries include Armenia, Paraguay, Bolivia, Haiti, Mongolia, and Pakistan.


Non-Preferential Certificate of Origin – People also refer to these COs as regular, normal, or ordinary COs. They do not guarantee any discounts or removal of duties, fees, or taxes between the countries who are trading.

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Another instance in which duties or taxes could be exempt would be if the two countries involved in a trade had a pre-existing free trade agreement. The original North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a good example of this. At the time, NAFTA allowed the three countries that make up North America (United States, Canada, and Mexico) to trade freely amongst one another. As of July 1, 2020, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) replaced NAFTA as the central free trade agreement between the three countries. With any trade agreement, there still may be a need for additional documents for certain imports or exports.

filling out a certificate of origin


Who Needs a Certificate of Origin, and When Are They Required?


There are a few things that will factor into whether or not you will need a certificate of origin for your export or import. Here are two main instances where you will need a CO:

  • If the country you are shipping to does not have a free trade agreement in place with the origin country, you will need a CO.
  • When shipping to the U.S., you will need a CO if the origin country is not included in the GSP’s list of countries and territories.


How Do I Obtain a Certificate of Origin?


You can go two routes when looking to obtain your certificate of origin. As with most documents nowadays, you either get your certificate of origin in paper or electronic form. For paper certificates of origin, contact your local or closest Chamber of Commerce. There are over 7,000 chambers across the nation ready to assist your CO needs. Keep in mind, though, that no official governing body watches over the CO creation process. You should ensure the chamber you choose follows the International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) guidelines. Doing so can prevent unwanted fees or costly delays. To receive a paper CO, you will need to provide the chamber with the following:

  • Completed chamber liability form
  • Documentation from the manufacturer detailing the origin of the export
  • Completed certificate of origin form


Once you have all three of these documents ready, deliver them to the chamber of your choosing. Stamping fees may apply when turning in forms.

For electronic certificates of origin, the American World Trade Chamber of Commerce (AWTCC) is the most trusted source. To begin the process, individuals or companies should register for an account. Within 24 hours of account approval, you can start uploading the documents needed to begin the CO creation process. Once your documents receive approval, you will be able to print your CO from anywhere in the United States.

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