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When Should Exporters Use a NAFTA Certificate of Origin Form

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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) grants Preferential Tariff Treatment on goods traded between the United States, Canada and Mexico. As part of this agreement, the three countries created a uniform NAFTA Certificate of Origin that importers must possess to qualify for preferential tariff treatment.

The Certificate of Origin summarizes the importer's claim that goods qualify as originating and should receive preferential tariff treatment. View a sample of a completed NAFTA Certificate of Origin.

Exporters or producers of goods can complete a NAFTA Certificate of Origin if they are sure that their goods qualify as originating under the rules of origin in NAFTA General Note 12. (See my seven-part series of articles called, NAFTA Rules of Origin.)

A good may qualify as originating if it is new, old, used or unused. A good that is old or used is subject to the same treatment under the NAFTA rules of origin as a new item and must be certified on a Certificate of Origin.

A Certificate of Origin Is Not Always Required

There are limited situations when importers are not required to possess a NAFTA Certificate of Origin to receive preferential tariff treatment:

  1. The U.S. Customs Director at a specific port has, in writing, waived the requirement for specific goods because he or she is otherwise satisfied that the goods qualify for NAFTA preferential tariff treatment.
  2. The goods being imported are considered non-commercial or casual because of their limited value, which is determined by each NAFTA country.
  3. A commercial shipment is valued at:
    • no more than USD 2,500 and is being imported into the U.S.,
    • no more than CAD 1,600 and is being imported into Canada, or
    • no more than USD 1,000 and is being imported into Mexico.

The exemption for commercial shipments only relieves exporters from the task of completing a Certificate of Origin. In order for importers to receive preferential tariff treatment, exporters must include a signed statement of origin on the commercial invoice or separate document.

All three countries have accepted the following statement to meet that requirement:

Statement of Origin for Low Value Commercial Importation

I certify that the goods referenced in this invoice/sales contract originate under the rules of origin specified for these goods in the NAFTA, and that further production or any other operation outside the territories of the Parties has not occurred subsequent to production in the territories.

Name ________________________
Title _________________________
Company _____________________
Signature/Date/Phone ____________________________________
I am the exporter of the goods _____ or producer of the goods _____.

Language and Scope of the Certificate

The uniform Certificate of Origin can be used in all three countries as required by the NAFTA agreement. Exporters must complete the Certificate of Origin in duplicate and send one copy to the importer while retaining the other. The border broker may also request a copy. Producers that complete and sign Certificates of Origin for use by exporters must also keep a copy for their records.

Exporters can create Certificates of Origin to cover a single importation of goods or multiple shipments of identical goods. Certificates that cover multiple shipments are called blanket certificates and may apply to goods imported within any twelve-month period.

Although a single Certificate of Origin can only cover goods imported during a twelve-month period, it remains valid for NAFTA preference claims made up to four years from the date it was signed.

Importers' Obligations

If importers wish to claim preferential tariff treatment under NAFTA based on a valid Certificate of Origin in their possession, they must make a declaration on their import documentation. If they don't make such a claim at the time of importation, they may request preferential tariff treatment no later than one year after the date on which the good was imported, provided they have obtained a Certificate of Origin for the goods.

Importers must provide the Certificate to the importing country's customs administration upon request, and they must submit a corrected declaration and pay the corresponding duties whenever there is reason to believe that a Certificate contained inaccurate information.

The customs administration of the importing country may deny preferential tariff treatment to the goods if an importer fails to comply with any of the customs procedures set out in Chapter Five of NAFTA.

Importers must maintain their import records for five years or such longer period as may be specified by their country.

Exporters' Obligations

Exporters or producers that provide Certificates of Origin must maintain their export records for five years or such longer period as may be specified by their country. They must also provide copies to their own customs administration upon request. If anything changes that affect the accuracy or validity of any of their Certificates of Origins, exporters or producers must notify all relevant parties.

In the next part of this series, I will discuss how to complete each field on the NAFTA Certificate of Origin.

This article was first published in November 2010 and has been updated to include current information, links and formatting.

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