Certificate of Origin (CoO)

The Certificate of Origin (CoO) is a key document in international shipping. It’s important for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to understand what it is, whether they’re handling global trade on their own or working with a freight forwarder. Not understanding or misusing the CoO can lead to complications in customs clearance, resulting in potential delays and additional costs.

In this guide, we’ll explain why the CoO is important, its purpose, how it might affect your business, and how freight forwarders can help you with handling it.


What is a Certificate of Origin (CoO)?

A Certificate of Origin, commonly abbreviated as CoO, is an official document used to certify the country in which a product was manufactured or produced. It is typically required for international trade and customs purposes and provides evidence that goods have been sourced from a specific country. 

The exporter must sign the CoO, usually accompanied by customs documentation such as invoices, shipping manifests, and other records related to the shipment. Depending on local regulations, it may also need to be certified or completed by a government body or Chamber of Commerce before being presented at Customs offices abroad.


Why is a Certificate of Origin (CoO) Important in International Trade?

A Certificate of Origin (CoO) is used to verify the country in which the goods were manufactured for purposes such as:

  • Assessing Eligibility for Import: Some countries restrict imports from certain countries due to political reasons, safety regulations, trade agreements, etc. The CoO helps to determine whether the goods can be imported into the destination country.
  • Calculating Customs Duties and Tariffs: Trade agreements such as the USMCA often provide lower or even zero customs duties and tariffs for goods that are produced by member countries. The CoO, which certifies the origin of the goods, plays a vital role in determining whether these special rates apply.
  • Enforcing Trade Sanctions or Embargoes: CoOs help verify the origin of imported goods to ensure that sanctions or embargoes are enforced.


How to Get a Certificate of Origin?

Obtaining a Certificate of Origin (CoO) usually starts with the exporter providing necessary details about the product and its origin to an approved issuing authority in the country where the goods are produced. Once the CoO is issued, it’s typically incorporated with the rest of the shipment documentation, often in electronic form, before the goods are shipped. 

Freight forwarders can be a great help in this regard. They have the knowledge to guide you through the whole process, ensuring the accuracy of the details provided so that everything goes as smoothly as possible.


What Are the Components of a Certificate of Origin (CoO)?

Here are the key components that collectively form a comprehensive Certificate of Origin:

  • Detailed Description of the Goods: A comprehensive account of the goods, specifying nature and contents.
  • HS Code: An international system that helps standardize the names and numbers of classifying traded products.
  • Country of Origin: Identifies where the goods were manufactured or produced, helping with traceability and compliance.
  • Exporter and Consignee Details: Information about parties involved, including names, addresses, and contact info.
  • Number and Type of Packages: Specifies the count and packaging type (e.g., crates, boxes, pallets).
  • Invoice Number and Date: Refers to the commercial invoice that accompanies the shipment.
  • Additional Manufacturer Details: Information about the goods’ manufacturer, if different from the exporter.
  • Method of Transport Description: Details about the shipping mode (e.g., air, sea, road, rail).
  • Shipping Marks and Numbers: Unique identifiers on packages for tracking and identification.
  • Weight and Measurement of the Goods: Details the total gross weight and dimensions of the cargo shipment.

These components together form a comprehensive CoO, enabling customs authorities to process international shipments efficiently.


Legal Requirements and Penalties

Inaccuracies in a CoO can lead to the shipment being held at customs, delayed, seized, or even fined. Ensuring the document’s accuracy is essential to avoid legal complications and unnecessary costs. 

In order to prevent errors and inconsistencies, it is best for all the information in the CoO to be reviewed by a freight forwarder.


Frequently Asked Questions about Certificate of Origin for SMBs


What is the Purpose of a CoO?

The main purpose of a CoO is to establish proof of origin for goods. It helps customs authorities, traders, and buyers to know the source of the product, and it affects the tariffs or import duties imposed on the goods. This helps ensure compliance and taxation in trade, but it can also have knock-on effects that protect the customer as traceability and transparency are improved.


Why is the Certificate of Origin Necessary in International Shipping?

The Certificate of Origin is necessary for determining the tariffs or import duties imposed on the goods and verifying whether the goods are legally allowed to be imported.


How Does a CoO Influence Customs Procedures?

A Certificate of Origin contributes significantly to the efficiency of customs procedures around the world. In essence, a CoO is an official document that certifies the country in which an item was manufactured or produced. Customs authorities use this certificate to determine and apply tariff rates, uphold trade agreements, and ensure compliance with any import quotas or restrictions. 


How Does a Digital Certificate of Origin (eCO) Compare to a Traditional Paper-based Certificate of Origin (CoO)?

Similarly to its paper-based counterpart, the Digital Certificate of Origin (eCO) serves as a means of verifying a product’s country of manufacturing or production. The eCO was designed for today’s digital age. With the eCO, SMBs can benefit from faster processing times, reduced risk of human errors, and an easier way to store and retrieve data. 


As more customs departments become digitized, eCOs continue to gain acceptance and preference. Nevertheless, it is vital for businesses to verify with their destination country if an eCO is accepted, as not every customs authority has transitioned to this digital shift. 

Partnering with a knowledgeable freight forwarder can ensure you successfully navigate these nuances.


The Certificate of Origin (CoO) and the USMCA

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is a major trade agreement that governs a significant portion of North American commerce. It’s a trilateral agreement that took effect on July 1, 2020, replacing the previous North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The USMCA contains a number of key updates aimed at modernizing free trade and addressing current trade issues, such as digital trade, while reinforcing labor and environmental standards. 

Certificates of origin play an important role in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). This certification functions as a declaration by the exporter, producer, or importer that the imported products comply with the rules of origin under the USMCA, thus making them eligible for preferential tariff treatment. 

For small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), understanding and properly implementing USMCA can unlock significant advantages. Primarily, it can lead to lower tariffs or even tariff-free access when exporting to other USMCA members. This can significantly reduce the cost of trade and helps facilitate smoother customs procedures.

It may be beneficial to use the services of a freight forwarder in this situation. They act as valuable guides, adept at interpreting and applying the nuances of the USMCA to real-world shipping scenarios. With a freight forwarder’s expertise, SMBs can ensure they are taking full advantage of the trade benefits available to them under this agreement.


Ready to get started?

By land, air, or sea, Ship4wd makes it easy for businesses to take control of their international shipping