"Dear Cathy" Discusses Certificates of Origin

Catherine J. Petersen | January 8, 2012 | Customs, Export Compliance, NAFTA, Free Trade Agreements
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Most of our goods come from Asia, and we do not further manufacture or assemble any of the goods. Some of our customers are in Latin America. Many of them ask us to provide them with either a NAFTA or CAFTA Certificate of Origin. Are we obligated to provide such a Certificate?

Dear Cathy,
Globe_showing_South_AmericaWe took a few training sessions with you some time ago. Since our sessions with you, the people in Customer Service raised a question about certificates of origin. I was wondering if you could help us.
Most of our goods come from Asia, and we do not further manufacture or assemble any of the goods. Upon receipt at our distribution center, we complete an inspection, audit our import documentation, and notify our customs broker when there are any overages, under-reporting or damaged goods received. The customs broker sends us the corrected paper work.
We have customers in Latin America; our imported goods are shipped to Latin America. Our customers in Latin America ask us to provide them with a certificate of origin (COO) regarding the goods we are selling. Depending on where the customer is located, they might ask for a NAFTA Certificate of Origin or CAFTA Certificate of Origin.
The question is: Are we obligated to provide the customer with a certificate of origin covering the goods we're selling?
Thank you,
Perplexed on Origination
Dear Perplexed,
You are not obligated to provide a NAFTA or CAFTA COO. These two types of COOs are voluntarily issued when the goods originate according to the rules of these two free trade agreements.
However, Latin American countries' customs authorities (as well as many other countries) often require a country of origin designation within the documentation that you prepare and submit to your customer so they may clear goods into their country. There are different approaches that will satisfy this requirement. It is best to confirm the best option for your customer and verify which of these options will ensure smooth customs clearance.
Here are three options:
  1. Identify the country of origin with a statement on each line item on the commercial invoice,
  2. Issue a "generic" certificate of origin (you'll find templates at the Minnesota District Export Council website and the Shipping Solutions Export Documentation and Compliance Software website) that identifies the product item (SKU) number for each product, then sign the document and submit it for notary and chamber of commerce signature (certification), or
  3. Issue a supplemental letter to the buyer with the country of origin for each item being shipped.
In addition to the documentation identifying the country of origin, it is important to mark the product and the boxes with the correct country of origin.
Happy New Year!