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NDTO News Article

Certificates of Origin

A Certificate of Origin (CO) is a document used to certify where a product or good came from. This is essential for many trade transactions to properly determine the tariffs that should be applied to each particular good.  Several pieces of information need to be considered for COs, as each country may have variations for required signatures, information, and different types of COs altogether, all of which depend on the destination.

The CO should accompany most exports and be independent of other documents like the packing lists and commercial invoices. While it is not always required to have a CO, it may speed up customs processing to specifically call out the origin of the goods. New advancements for electronic COs are becoming more and more popular, as they remove the logistics to get in-person signatures and increase time efficiency. Several companies facilitate eCOs and provide templates for each country.

There are two types of COs commonly used. The first is the generic or non-preferential CO. These are for goods that do not qualify for preferential treatment under a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Buyers often need the CO to be certified by an external entity for finalization. The external entity may be a Chamber of Commerce or Trade Office. Often, a statement outlining the origin of the goods on company letterhead is sufficient to meet a generic COs requirement.

In some cases, self-certification is allowable, however it may not be the case for every CO. It is always a good practice to check with the destination country/business to meet documentation requirements before shipping the goods overseas. Many buyers are willing to provide example documents that meet their needs. Several templates are available through US Customs, brokers, freight forwarders, and the destination country’s Chamber of Commerce.

Another type of CO document is for preferential treatment, often called an FTA certification. These certifications are optional but may help with smoother processing through customs. When two countries have an agreed-upon FTA or quota, it can be beneficial for a company to declare their goods for preferential treatment with a CO to lower their tariff rate. US products can enter markets at a more competitive rate due to the reduced tariffs through the FTA.

FTAs between the US and other countries do not require a specific form, but they do outline the types of information necessary to declare origin properly. The required export documents like the commercial invoice typically include the necessary origin details. To ease customs processing, it is recommended to claim goods through an FTA (if one is present) and have a CO accompanying the exporting documentation.

Typical information requested on FTA Certificate of Origin documents includes:

  • Legal name/contact information for the importer, exporter, and producers of shipment
  • Date of certification
  • Specify the period of time the CO is valid
  • HS code
  • Description of goods
  • Country of origin (must be within FTA)
  • Describe the preference criteria (rule of origin)
  • Name of certified person, contact information, and signature

When completing COs, they should be filled out as fully and accurately as possible, aligning with the destinations countries’ needs. Companies may find it worthwhile to create their own template when the need for COs arise or utilize logistics providers and shipping companies that offer a variety of templates. Whichever way is best for the company to define the origin of a good, the CO certification is an exporting document to become more familiar with. The North Dakota Trade Office is here to assist with any questions, and you will also find some helpful resources below.


US Customs and Border Protection: Certification of Origin Template

International Trade Administration: FTA Certifications of Origin

David Noah, Shipping Solutions, When to Use a Certification of Origin Form for Your Export Shipments