Let’s face the truth, the legal department does not sign
off on certificates of origin. In most companies exporting their
goods, it is the sales department or the logistics department that
prepares and signs the certificates of origin. In many companies,
the certificate of origin is just a piece of paper that has to be
provided once a year to the foreign buyer or it is a on-off
document prepared at the request of a buyer who would like duty
relief (or must respond to a request by the foreign government for
the certificate of origin).
What is a certificate of origin?
A Certificate of Origin (CO) is an important international trade
and legal document that certifies certain information provided
therein is correct and attests that the goods identified in the
certificate are wholly obtained, produced, manufactured or
processed in a particular country. The NAFTA Certificate of Origin (and most
certificates of origin) requires certain information be provided by
the exporter about the goods described in the certificate. Customs
documentation is completed by customs brokers and importers based
upon the information provided in a certificate of origin (when they
receive a copy prior to the shipment). Whether customs duties are
charged and at which preferential rate are determined by the
importing country’s customs authorities based, in part, on
the certificate of origin.
Except in large corporations (e.g. auto companies), the
employees who usually sign or provide the certificates of origin
often have not taken customs or free trade agreement courses to
understand the importance of the information being provided. They
do not have specialized knowledge in customs laws, such as tariff
classification. As a result, most certificates of origin we review
The common errors (but by no means an exhaustive list)
Preferential treatment is not available because the rule of
origin has not been satisfied;
An incorrect country of origin is identified;
Incorrect H.S. code for the importing country is used;
An incorrect or incomplete or unclear or ambiguous description
of the goods is provided;
Incorrect preference criteria are used;
Incorrect producer is identified (or the exporter states it is
the producer when the goods are purchased by the exporter for
An incorrect net cost is stated;
Incorrect importers are identified; or
An incorrect “blanket period” is stated.
The exporter is the party who completes the certificate of
origin. The mistakes made on the certificate of origin can affect
the importer and result in relationship issues down the road.
Often, the importer relies on the information provided by the
exporter. Much of the information provided by the exporter is in
the exporter’s control. Only the exporter knows how the goods
are manufactured and from what materials and where those input
materials were sourced.
The legal department and/or management of export companies
should randomly and periodically review certificates of origin
provided by employees to ensure correctness. You may just find that
more attention should be given to what is often considered to be a
routine and unimportant task.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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While that agreement mandated export measures on Canadian softwood lumber exports destined for the United States, it also protected those lumber exports from the potential imposition of onerous import measures by the U.S.
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