Certificate of Origin (CO): Definition, Types, and How to Get One

What Is a Certificate of Origin (CO)?

A certificate of origin (CO) is a document declaring in which country a commodity or good was manufactured. The certificate of origin contains information regarding the product, its destination, and the country of export. For example, a good may be marked "Made in the USA" or "Made in China".

Required by many treaty agreements for cross-border trade, the CO is an important form because it can help determine whether certain goods are eligible for import, or whether goods are subject to duties.

Key Takeaways

  • A certificate of origin (CO) records the country of origin that an imported good has come from.
  • The CO is often mandated by importing countries and included in trade agreements, as it is used to levy the appropriate import tax, if any apply.
  • A CO can exist either in paper or digital format, and must be approved by the requisite chamber of commerce or customs authority.
  • Preferred COs are abbreviated versions that are only used in the presence of a free trade agreement or treaty.

Understanding Certificates of Origin (COs)

Customs officials expect the CO to be a separate document from the commercial invoice or packing list. Customs in these countries also expect it to be signed by the exporter, the signature notarized, and the document subsequently signed and stamped by a chamber of commerce. In some cases, the destination customs authority may request proof of review from a specific chamber of commerce. Chambers of commerce usually only certify that which is verifiable. However, if the chamber is presented with a declaration attesting to commercial details, the accuracy of which it cannot check, it must confine itself to stamping the document attesting to the position and the identity of the signatory.

The proof of review usually amounts to the chamber’s official embossing stamp and a signature of an authorized chamber representative. Some countries are accepting electronically issued certificates of origin that have been electronically signed by a chamber of commerce.

A certificate of origin may also be required by the buyer in the documentary requirements stated within a letter of credit. The letter of credit may specify additional certifications or language within that must be noted in order for the certificate of origin to comply with the stated requirements

With an electronic certificate of origin (eCO), you can submit the required documentation online and get an electronic certificate stamped by a chamber of commerce in less than a day or get an expedited paper certificate overnight.

Types of Certificates of Origin

There is no standardized certificate of origin (CO) form for global trade, but a CO, normally prepared by the exporter of goods, has at least the basic details about the product being shipped, a tariff code, the exporter and importer, and the country of origin. The exporter, with knowledge of the specific requirements of border control at the importing country, will document these details, get the CO notarized by a chamber of commerce, and submit the form with the shipment. Detail requirements depend on the type of goods being exported and where they are going.

The main two types of COs are non-preferential and preferential.

Non-Preferential COs

Non-preferential COs, also known as "ordinary COs," indicates that the goods do not qualify for reduced tariffs or tariff-free treatment under trade arrangements between countries.

If an exporting country does not have in place a treaty or trade agreement with the importing country, an ordinary CO will be needed. Or, if a particular product being shipped has been excluded from tariff relief it must also be declared using an ordinary CO.

Preferential COs

Preferential COs indicate the presence of a free trade agreement or reduced tariffs between countries. For example, exports between the United States, Mexico, and Canada are exempt under the USMCA free trade agreement and would receive a preferential CO. In these and similar cases, instead, a commercial invoice or bill of lading is used.

In the U.S., the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) enacted by Congress in 1974 to promote economic development of poor nations, eliminates duties on thousands of products imported from over one hundred countries accorded preferential status.

Countries like Bolivia, Cambodia, Haiti, Namibia, and Pakistan are presently on the list, as are numerous other third-world or developing countries. The European Union (EU) and countries around the world have their own versions of a GSP, mainly geared to fostering economic growth through trade with friendly nations.

Free Trade Agreement Certificates of Origin

Free trade agreements made by the U.S. with other countries may necessitate a specific form be issued by the exporter as proof of origin so products can qualify for preferential duty rates. Samples of those forms can be found at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection websiteexport.gov, or the customs or chamber of commerce websites of the destination country.

In addition, the shipping solutions website allows you to download sample certificates of origin for AustraliaCAFTA-DRChileColombiaKorea, and the USMCA (which replaced NAFTA).

Steps for Obtaining a Paper Certificate of Origin

Exporter in need of issuing a CO should follow the following steps, per their local chamber of commerce:

  1. Complete and notarize an appropriate affidavit.
  2. Provide either a manufacturer's invoice or commercial invoice that shows where your goods are manufactured.
  3. Fill out the certificate of origin document.
  4. Submit a notarized affidavit, certificate of origin document, and corresponding invoices to your chamber of commerce.
  5. Indicate which documents you would like to be stamped.

There is usually a fee for stamping certificates of origin—however, if you’re a member, that fee may be reduced. This is an incentive for becoming a member.

What's Included on a Certificate of Origin?

Certificates of origin will typically contain the following information;

  • The name and contact information of the producer of the product, including the country of origin
  • The name and contact information of the exporting agent
  • The name and contact information of the receiver/importing agent
  • A description of the good(s), including the appropriate product codes (known as HS codes)
  • The item's quantity, size, and weight
  • A waybill or bill of lading number
  • The item's means of transportation and route information
  • A dated commercial invoice of payment
  • Any additional notes or remarks

How Do You Get a Certificate of Origin?

Certificates of origin (COs) are issued and filled out by the exporter of a good. The CO may then be approved by a chamber of commerce prior to shipment.

Can I Produce My Own Certificate of Origin?

Only exporters can issue a certificate of origin. Contact your local chamber of commerce (or similar authority) to get help with the process and understand what is needed for their approval.

Is a Certificate of Origin the Same As Title?

A certificate of origin (CO) states from what country a product originated along with its export and import information. However, it does not provide title in the sense of a legal transfer of ownership of the good. That would be done via a separate transaction involving an invoice or similar proof of sale.

In the context of new car sales, a manufacturer's CO may serve as equivalent to initial title to a vehicle when it is received by a dealership from overseas.

The Bottom Line

A certificate of origin (CO) is a document used in international trade to identify a product's country of origin. The CO will also detail the product's specifications and the identities of the exporter and importer. The CO is used for customs purposes, especially when a tariff or other import duty is required. A preferential CO may be used in cases where a regional free trade agreement is in place, in which case less information and scrutiny are needed. Exporters are responsible for issuing and filling out a CO, and are usually endorsed by the local chamber of commerce.

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