Since the NAFTA Certificate of Origin summarizes its claims that goods qualify as originating, exporters and producers must retain their records for a minimum of five years after they sign a certificate. These records include all documentation that they use to help determine that their goods meet the NAFTA Rules of Origin. Canada, Mexico, and the United States agreed to establish a uniform Certificate of Origin to certify that goods imported into their territories qualify for preferential tariff treatment accorded by NAFTA. Only importers who possess a valid Certificate of Origin can claim this preferential tariff treatment.
To verify that these claims for preferential treatment are valid, the NAFTA authorizes the customs administration in the importing country to audit an exporter or producer that executes a Certificate of Origin. These audits can be performed by written questionnaire, telephone, fax, on-site visits or other means.
The Written Questionnaire
Typically, a custom’s audit will begin with a written questionnaire. If an exporter or producer doesn’t provide sufficient information on the questionnaire to make a determination of origin, a customs officer may obtain additional information by undertaking a customs verification visit.
Prior to conducting a verification visit, the customs authority in the importing country must provide written notification of its intention to conduct the visit to the exporter or producer whose premises are to be visited, as well as to the customs administration and the embassy of the NAFTA country in whose territory the visit will occur. Before the visit can be conducted, the exporter or producer whose goods are the subject of a verification visit must grant written consent. It also has the right to designate two observers to be present during the visit.
If an exporter or producer does not consent to the verification visit within 30 days of receiving notification of the proposed visit, the importing country may withdraw preferential NAFTA tariff treatment from the exporter’s or producer’s goods. The exporter or producer still maintains the right to appeal this determination.
Whether an importing country’s customs authority makes a determination by questionnaire, on-site visit or other means, it must issue a written ruling to the exporter or producer. The exporter or producer can be review and appeal this determination in the importing country.
Any confidential business information that is collected during an audit may only be disclosed to authorities that are responsible for the administration and enforcement of determinations of origin and of customs and revenue matters.