The International Trade Blog Export Forms
The Chamber of Commerce and Export Documents: The Certificate of Origin
On: March 20, 2023 | By: David Noah | 10 min. read
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.
If you missed my first article in this series, I discussed other ways chambers of commerce benefit exporters.
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 and to answer some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) about certificates of origin.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions about Certificates of Origin
More than a thousand U.S. exporters have registered Shipping Solutions’ free online portal for generating eCOs. As we’ve talked with users, we compiled a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) that we posed to Wendy Baggett:
Q. What is a certificate of origin?
A certificate of origin form is often required by customs when importing goods into a particular country. Since the exporter is usually the party that sourced the goods and arranged the export, they generally are the party that prepares the certificate and gets it chamberized when required.
A certificate of origin is an important document in international trade because it identifies the country of origin of the goods being exported. This information is used to determine the proper duty rates to apply to imports as well as the admissibility of goods in some countries. A certificate of origin may also be required to satisfy a letter of credit.
There are generally two types of certificates of origin: (1) a free trade agreement certificate of origin used to prove the exported goods qualify for reduced duty rates under a trade agreement between two or more countries, and (2) a generic certificate of origin for non-trade agreement shipments.
Q. When do I need a certificate of origin?
The customs authority in the country of import uses the origin of the goods identified on the certificate to assess the proper duty rate for those goods. So while a country may not require a certificate of origin, it may be beneficial to provide one.
Let’s say you’re shipping something overseas and the standard duty rate on your goods is 2% unless the goods are from the United States, in which case the duty rate is 1%. If the exporter and importer don’t care about the 1% savings in duty rate because they don’t want to bother with a certificate of origin, then the exporter typically doesn’t need to provide one. But if the reduction in the duty rate can save them hundreds or thousands of dollars, then they are motivated to provide one.
However, some countries may require a certificate for every shipment. For example, Kazakhstan is trying to keep Chinese goods out of their country, so they require a certificate of origin for every import into their country. There may be other countries that have similar requirements.
Q. How do I get a certificate of origin?
Since 1923, chambers of commerce are the official body that signs and stamps certificates of origin for exporters. This has traditionally required companies to manually create the form, deliver or courier it to a chamber, wait for the appropriate staff member to review and certify the certificate, send or courier it back to the exporter, and then forward it by international courier to the importer.
Exporters can now generate and submit a certificate of origin to a U.S.-based chamber of commerce online and get it approved within a single business day. These certificates can either be printed out on a color printer or sent overnight to the exporter. Either way, the certificates include the required signatures and stamps by an accredited chamber, are registered with the International Chamber of Commerce, and are recognized and accepted by customs authorities around the world.
You can go online and register for the Certificate of Origin Portal for free.
Q. Under what circumstances will a U.S. chamber of commerce issue a stamped certificate of origin for an export?
The rule is the same for all chambers around the world. As long as the goods listed on the certificate of origin have some logical affiliation with their country, they will issue a certificate of origin. For U.S.-based chambers, the two biggest affiliations are: (1) the exporter is located in the United States, or (2) the goods were produced in the U.S. As long as one of those two things are true, the document can be issued.
Q. Can companies not based in the United States get a certificate of origin stamped by a U.S. chamber of commerce?
Yes, if the goods listed on the certificate are made in the United States. See above.
Q. What documentation do you need to get a certificate of origin stamped by a chamber of commerce?
The U.S. exporter has to provide a copy of the commercial invoice for the shipment showing the country of origin for each item. The certificate of origin should list the same country of origin for each item as the invoice. This is usually the only documentation that is required. If there are still some questions, the chamber may request a letter from the manufacturer confirming that they produced the goods in the country listed.
Q. Do any other export documents need to be approved and stamped by the chamber of commerce?
There are some circumstances when the country of import requires that the commercial invoice get chamberized in addition to the certificate of origin. In rare cases, they may require other documents get stamped by the chamber as well. As a general rule, the importer will have the knowledge to cover this.
Q. What does an exporter do with a stamped certificate of origin once they get it from the chamber?
The certificate of origin often accompanies the shipment, whether it's in paper or electronic form, whether it's printed or emailed. The certificate goes to the importer, and the importer provides it to the customs authority in the country of import so they can determine what duties should apply. The duties are based on where the product is made, which is why the country of origin appears on the certificate.
Q. When should an exporter apply for a certificate of origin?
The standard timeframe for requesting a certificate of origin is up to three weeks before the goods leave the country of export.
Q. Can an exporter request a certificate of origin for items that are already en route to the importer?
Yes. Sometimes exporters apply for a certificate of origin while the goods are traveling by vessel to China or some other country and haven’t arrived yet. Sometimes the goods have arrived, haven’t yet cleared customs, and are sitting in storage because the exporter hasn’t provided the proper paperwork. The exporter has up to three weeks after the goods have departed to apply for the certificate.
Q. What if the exporter requests a certificate of origin more than three weeks after it has departed?
If it has been more than three weeks, the exporter can complete a “retrospective application” for up to three months after the goods have been shipped. In the retrospective application, the exporter is certifying that no other certificates of origin were issued for the goods in this shipment and explaining why they didn’t apply for a certificate during the normal time frame.
Q. What can the exporter do if it has been more than three months since the goods shipped?
At that point, a certificate of origin shouldn’t be issued. Exceptions may apply.
Q. Are certificates of origin issued for specific export shipments, or can you issue a blanket certificate for goods for all shipments going to the same consignee?
Most certificates of origin are shipment specific. Everything on a particular certificate of origin is going to the same consignee, on the same shipment, and at the same time. There are free trade agreement certificates of origin like the USMCA certificate that can be valid for all shipments to a particular consignee within a year, but they don’t generally need to be approved and stamped by a chamber of commerce.
Q. How can a chamber of commerce know the information being provided is accurate?
It can’t. Chambers verify the information against the support documentation provided.
Q. Can an exporter provide a certificate of origin that is not chamberized?
With the exception of most free trade agreement certificates of origin, all certificates of origin need to be stamped by a chamber of commerce to be valid.
Q. What does it mean when the certificate of origin needs Apostille certification?
An “apostille” is a form of authentication issued to documents for use in countries that participate in the Hague Convention of 1961. It is a Secretary of State certification of a Notary Public signature. A list of countries that accept apostilles is provided by the U.S. State Department.
Q. What does it mean to get the certificate of origin legalized?
With some exports, the final step in the process is sending the certificate to the consulate of the importing country for its stamp. This can only be done after local and state-level processing and sometimes must also include the U.S. Department of State or other agency certification. It is recommended that you confer with your chamber or importer for requirements.
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.
Do you still have questions?
If you still have questions about a certificate of origin, send us an email at email@example.com or give us a call at (651) 905-1727.
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This article was first published in January 2016 and has been updated to include current information, links and formatting.
About the Author: David Noah
David Noah is the founder and president of Shipping Solutions, a software company that develops and sells export documentation and compliance software targeted at U.S. companies that export. David is a frequent speaker on export documentation and compliance issues and has published several articles on the topic.