Besides commercial and transport documents, exporters must organize certificates, documents and approvals that will satisfy foreign customs as to the value, country of origin, weight, quality, and safety of the goods being shipped and demonstrate approval to trade controlled goods. These certificates and approvals required for international shipping by customs are dependent on the type of goods being shipped (e.g. food, plant material, electrical tools, used clothing), and the regulations of the country accepting the goods.
It is important to ensure that all the certificates and approvals are in place prior to reaching the border to prevent delays or extra costs, e.g. storage. Provision of such documents should be specified as one of the terms of a sales agreement/contract. Importers need to ensure they inform exporters of the importing requirements so that goods can meet the standards and proper certificates can be obtained.
The following certificates and approvals have been organized and grouped as follows:
- Certificates of origin
- Packing declarations
- Certificates of quality and safety
- Importer/exporter declaration
- Importer/exporter licences and permits
- Consular invoices
Certificates of Origin (CO)
A Certificate of Origin declares that goods to be exported in a shipment have been grown, obtained, produced, manufactured and/or processed in a particular country. Customs importers, freight forwarders or banks may request Certificates of Origin for clearance of letters of credits. Certificates of Origin should provide the following international shipping information:
- Name and address of exporter
- Name and address of producer
- Name and address of importer
- Time period of certification
- Description of goods
- HS code
- Gross weight or other quantity
- Signature, name and contact information of authorizing individual
Certificates of Origin are important when there are international free trade agreements as there are opportunities for preferential rates of duty and special tariff treatment if the country of origin is a signatory. For example, special tariff treatment is extended to goods traded between countries that are signatory to the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT), administered by the World Trade Organization.
The main criteria for these special tariff treatments are:
- Goods are grown, produced or manufactured in a country entitled to the specific tariff treatment
- Not less than a certain percentage of the production cost was incurred in the country of origin or a country entitled to the same or a more favourable tariff treatment
- The goods are shipped directly (or by acceptable transhipment) from one qualifying country to the other
To substantiate their entitlement to the preferred rates of customs duty available, importers must have a Certificate of Origin and must present it to customs if requested.
If you are a manufacturer or an exporter, check with your governments customs or revenue agencies to determine rules of origin that apply to identify what agreements can impact the taxes and duties you could be charged and to make sure your claim is valid.
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A packing declaration is a letter from the packing supplier or shipper or exporter stating that the type of materials used for packing and the packing container meet the standards for entry into a country. Some countries may require other certifications if certain materials (e.g. straw or wood shavings) are used for packing. A Dangerous Good Declaration is another form of packing declaration certifying that dangerous goods are packaged, labelled and being transported in accordance with international shipping regulations.
Certificates of Quality/Safety
For some shipments, the contract terms will call for additional documentation that verifies that the grade or quality of a product meets the requirements of the importing country, or as proof that the goods have passed through health or sanitary inspections. These are not international shipping documents, but in many cases the exporter will need these documents to pass the goods through customs and have the goods admitted into the importing country.
Typical certificates include the following.
Phytosanitary certificates verify that the plants and plant products covered by the certificate are free from quarantine pests, practically free from other injurious pests, and that they conform to the country’s phytosanitary import requirements. It is an official document issued by the plant protection organization of the exporting country to the plant protection organization of the importing country. A phytosanitary certificate is a requirement for propagative (reproductive) material (excluding specified seeds) imported from all foreign countries, and for other specified plant-based commodities.
Food safety or consumption certificates verify that the type of food being exported is an approved species, meets certain labeling specifications, approved storage conditions, meets specific content levels (e.g. sulfites), approved for human consumption, and other requirements based on the different food types. Many countries trade or food safety regulatory agencies will have databases that can be accessed for importing requirements for different types and classifications of food products. For example, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s AIRS (Automated Import Reference System), provides information to importers on what is required for specific food items to be brought into Canada from different countries. These certificates, depending on the food type and the import requirement, may require inspections or laboratory testing and analysis.
Public health and veterinary certificates verify that animal products come from animals that have been reared, slaughtered and processed in regions free of disease, and that live animals and their rearing environment are disease-free. This type of certification requires an inspection by an authorized inspector.
Safety standards certifications confirm that the goods conform to the importing countries regulatory or technical standards. They are required for specific types of goods being brought into the country (e.g. electronic goods and appliances). Performance and safety testing is carried out by accredited organizations with testing facilities, which certify that the goods meet the requirement of the importing country, and affix the required safety mark. There are many different types of safety standards and marks that are accepted by different countries.
Treatment certificates verify that specific treatments have been administered to ensure that the goods and packing materials are not bringing in any unwanted species. For example, in Australia, goods or packing materials made from wood, especially with bark on it, must be fumigated. Some food items may need to be irradiated, or some items made from fabric must be certified new material or be disinfected. Authorized providers of the required treatments would provide these certificates.
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International shipping approvals
Approvals of shipments by importing governments are required before goods are shipped or before reaching a port of entry when importing or exporting specific controlled or restricted goods. This form of government approval is a way for governments to monitor and control the flow of specific, restricted and/or controlled goods, e.g. dangerous goods, nuclear materials. The following types of documents are pre-authorizations imposed by governments of countries accepting imports or allowing exports that importers or exporters must obtain.
Importer declarations are statements of the type of goods and the quantity being brought into the country using a customs form completed by the importer or an agent acting on their behalf.
Importer licences and permits provide approval and permission for an importer to bring in a specific amount of certain goods that are controlled by the importing country, for a specific time period. A licence is used to control the entry of dangerous or restricted products, such as firearms or to protect domestic markets from foreign competition.
Exporter declarations are statements of the amount, nature and value of the exported goods completed by the exporter prior to shipping goods. The declaration may need to include an export licence and/or a certificate of origin. These declarations provide statistical data on foreign trade for the exporting country and are used as control documents to monitor the export of specific products.
Exporter licences or permits are required when exporting specific types of goods to certain destinations. These documents allow the government of the exporting country to monitor or control the flow of these products. This may apply to goods that are potentially sensitive (e.g. advanced computer technologies), prohibited (e.g. drugs, plant materials), dangerous (e.g. explosives or radioactive materials), or in short supply.
Consular invoices (CI) are certified statements of the goods being shipped that are approved by the consulate representative at the point of shipment. CIs attest to the marks, numbers, weights, value, and origin of the goods. They are declarations of the accuracy of the contents of the shipment’s invoice. CIs are in the language of the importing country and must be filled out in that language; some translation of accompanying documents may be required. CIs facilitate customs clearance of the shipment into the importing country. Typically, consular invoice forms are purchased from the consul of the importing country, and as many as six copies may need to be completed. The consul must then legalize these documents. Other documents, such as the commercial invoice, are typically presented to the consul at the time the consular invoice is validated.
Pre-inspection certificates verify that the shipment of goods meets the requirements for that type of good prior to the shipment crossing the border. These certificates can be a requirement of exporting or importing regulatory authorities. An inspector, authorized by the appropriate regulatory agency, physically examines samples of the shipment before issuing a certificate. These certificates typically apply to shipments of live animals and unprocessed food items. These inspections may also be required at the port of entry by customs agents.
When importing services, the importing country may require the service business to be registered with their domestic revenue or tax agency. Permits or licences to supply the service domestically may also be required. Another requirement of importing services may be to use a local agent as a representative. Consult embassies, consulates, trade commissioners and regional chambers of commerce for information on trade in service requirements.