In my first article in this series, I discussed the role chambers of commerce play in exporting.
In this article, I'm focusing on one of the most useful services a chamber of commerce provides to exporters: export documents. Specifically, their role in helping you create a certificate of origin.
We spoke with Wendy Baggett, a certificate of origin guru and former president and CEO of a national chamber of commerce, to find out what exporters need to know about that process.
The Chamber of Commerce and the Certificate of Origin
A certificate of origin certifies the country where the goods originated, and it may be required by the government of the country where your goods are imported. It’s also frequently used to determine how much duty the importer will pay to bring in your goods.
Most countries accept a generic certificate of origin form that includes information about the exporter and importer, the description and harmonized tariff code of the goods, and the country of origin.
Importers depend heavily upon assistance and cooperation from their U.S. suppliers in producing accurate and well-documented declarations of origin. These certificates are usually prepared by the exporter and stamped by the local chamber of commerce.
Two types of chamber of commerce certificates of origin can be issued:
- Non-Preferential Certificates of Origin: The main type of certificate chambers issue, this is also known as an ordinary or generic certificate of origin. These certificates declare that the goods’ country of origin does not qualify for any preferential treatment under a free trade agreement (FTA)—many FTAs require their own types of documents.
- Preferential Certificates of Origin: This type of certificate declares that goods are subject to reduced tariffs or exemptions when they are exported to countries extending these privileges through a specific document located within a free trade agreement. Preferential certificates are especially important when free trade agreements are in effect with a specified certificate of origin.
Working with Your Local Chamber of Commerce
The chamber of commerce you choose to partner with will help you sign and stamp your certificate of origin. There are more than 7,000 chambers of commerce in the U.S., but there is no official or governing authority that presides over them. Individual chamber processes vary, so it’s important to make sure your local chamber is following the International Chamber of Commerce’s guidelines for electronic certificates of origin (eCOs) and certificates of origin. Despite having a stamp, many chambers in the U.S. are not following these guidelines, which can lead to delays and other headaches with your exports.
To find a reputable chamber of commerce that follows the ICC’s guidelines, ask potential chambers if they have a copy of the chamber guidelines or belong to the ICC accreditation chain. Their answers to these questions will likely tell you what you need to know about working with them.
Here’s a general outline of what you need to do, and what you can expect, to get a chamber of commerce certificate of origin. (Keep in mind this only a general outline of the process; it may not include all the details necessary.)
Obtaining a Paper Certificate of Origin
- Fill out an appropriate chamber liability form or application. You may need to have it notarized, though not all chambers require notarization.
- Provide either a manufacturer’s documentation or commercial invoice indicating where your goods are manufactured.
- Complete the certificate of origin document. (Shipping Solutions software can help you complete this form and all of your export documents five-times faster than how you’re doing it now.)
- Take your affidavit, certificate of origin document and corresponding invoices to your chamber of commerce. Chambers usually charge a fee for stamping certificates of origin. However, for members that fee may be reduced.
- Some chambers allow you to email these documents, though I never recommend this, as it is insecure. Piracy is the biggest loss leader in exporting—specifically hacked emails.
A better option than paper certificates is an electronic certificate of origin. Because the process of creating a paper certificate of origin can be time consuming and expensive when you add in all the delivery and/or courier fees, more and more exporters are creating electronic certificates of origin (eCO).
With an 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, if you prefer, receive an expedited paper certificate overnight.
Obtaining an Electronic Certificate of Origin
Shipping Solutions' electronic certificate of origin service is only $50 ($25 if you are a Shipping Solutions Annual Maintenance Program subscriber) and is quick and easy to use. First, register for free on the eCO web page, and then, when you are ready, log into the eCO portal and submit your export information.
Shipping Solutions has partnered with American World Trade Chamber of Commerce, whose certification staff is accredited by the International Chamber of Commerce World Chambers Federation. You can be assured that your chamber of commerce document will comply with the rules, regulations and best practices of international trade.
Important Notes on Working with a Chamber
1. The chamber can’t know if the information you’re providing is accurate.
According to Baggett:
Most chambers rely on support documentation to validate your claims of the country of manufacture of a product. Many exporters confuse the term "origin" to imply where the goods are being shipped from but it actually means where the product was manufactured. The support documentation should be a Manufacturer's Declaration or a commercial invoice noting the country of origin. Based on the knowledge of your company and your relationship with the chamber, the chamber will certify that they believe the information submitted to be true.
2. You can’t stamp the document yourself.
Exporters may find the cost of stamping a certificate of origin extreme and want to do it themselves with a seal provided by a chamber of commerce. This is wrong, because it isn’t a true validation. Chambers who do this may lose their ability to provide certification.
Again, from Baggett:
The ICC guidelines clearly state that it is against chamber policy to rent/lend your chamber seal. The 1923 Geneva Convention determined that chambers should review and stamp documents as they are an unbiased third party. In addition to increased liability for the Chamber, it's just bad business to give out your corporate seal.
Chambers of commerce can be an excellent resource for exporters. Make sure you know what’s going on with your local chamber, so you don’t miss out on any helpful export-related events or programs.
Still have questions? Check out: FAQ: Creating a Certificate of Origin for Your Exports.
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This article was first published in January 2016 and has been updated to include current information, links and formatting.