Country of origin labeling is mandatory for all consumer products imported and sold in the United States. Country of origin labeling is often as straightforward as printing a ‘Made in [INSERT COUNTRY]’ on the product and its packaging. That being said, there are exemptions for some products, and it’s sometimes not that simple to determine the actual country of origin.
In this guide, we explain what importers and Amazon sellers must know about country of origin labeling rules in the United States, including product exemptions, origin rules, placement, and more.
What is Country of Origin marking?
The purpose of the Country of Origin marking is to inform consumers about the country where the product was manufactured. Here are some examples:
- Made in the United States
- Made in China
- Made in Vietnam
- Made in Brazil
In the United States, the Country of Origin must be permanently affixed in most consumer products such as:
Form of Marking
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) accepts different forms for the Country of Origin marking, such as:
3. Tags, provided that they are visible and are attached to the product
4. Adhesive labels, which can be used in some cases. However, it is not recommended as if they become loose due to the weather or other factors, the importer might have to relabel the products prior to place them on the market
Size of Marking
There is no particular size requirement for the Country of Origin label, as long as the text is clearly readable. Therefore, it’s possible to adjust the size according to the product dimensions and shape.
Placement of Marking
The marking should be located in a prominent place so that it can be seen. For example, the Country of Origin label of a t-shirt is often located on the inside of the back collar. Also, note that the label must not be covered by other labels or parts. In short, you can’t hide it.
Languages of Marking
The marking must be written in English. Importers shall clearly indicate the English name of the country (e.g. China, Brazil, Vietnam, or Thailand). Abbreviations and variant English (e.g. British English) spellings are sometimes accepted, as long as they don’t cause confusion. That said, it’s not always so simple to determine if a shortened form of a country can cause confusion.
Wording of Marking
The most common wording is “Made in [Country]”. However, the phrase “Made in” is compulsory only when the product contains the name of other countries, which might mislead or deceive the consumer.
Let’s take a white t-shirt that was manufactured in Vietnam. In this case, “Vietnam” or “Made in Vietnam” are both acceptable Country of Origin markings.
However, let’s assume that the t-shirt has the text “France” on the front side. In this case, it is necessary to use the wording “Made in Vietnam”, in order to make it clear that the t-shirt was made in Vietnam, and not in France.
Also, it is possible to use the wording “Assembled in [country]”, when a product was assembled in a country from components imported from another country.
As an example, an electronic device assembled in Spain from components purchased in India could be marked with the following wording:
“Assembled in Spain from components of India”
Some products are exempted from the Country of Origin marking; for instance, products that are too small to be marked or products that might be destroyed when labeled. In this case, the Country of Origin marking must be placed on the product packaging.
Made in USA
If you wish to label your products as “Made in the USA”, you must comply with the Country of Origin requirements set out by the Federal Trade Commission.
In general, “Made in the USA” marked products must be “all or virtually all” made in the United States. More specifically, according to the FTC, “All or virtually all” implies that all significant components and manufacturing processes are produced/located in the United States, while foreign components or processing are negligible.
Note that there are two types of “Made in USA” claims:
1. Unqualified claims, that is “Made in USA”, in which case importers must provide reliable evidence to back up the claim that the product is “All or virtually all” made in the country
2. Qualified claims, for instance, “Assembled in USA from Brazilian and Indonesian parts”; in which case the claim must also be true
The FTC might evaluate the claim based on the product’s total components and manufacturing costs done in the United States and abroad.
The FTC “Made in the USA” policy applies to all products advertised or sold in the United States, unless there is a specific “Country of Origin” law that applies to a given product.
The “Made in the USA” label can be expressed in different forms. Here some examples of accepted forms:
- “Made in USA”
- “Our products are American-made”
Depending on the context, importers and manufacturers can choose to disclose the country of origin using the United States’ symbols or geographic references.
Made in China
The “Made in China” marking is applicable to products that are manufactured, produced, or grown in China. For example, textiles, electronics, wooden kitchen products manufactured in China must include the “Made in China” marking.
Since importers and manufacturers shall indicate the name of a country unmistakably, wordings such as “Made in PRC” shall be avoided as they might cause confusion, and such labels might be refused by the customs authorities. Instead, it’s generally recommended to only use the wording: “Made in China”.
Note: PRC stands for People’s Republic of China
How is the Country of Origin determined?
If a product is fully manufactured in a single country, then determine the Country of Origin is straightforward. However, the decision might be more complex, if a product is processed in more than a country, or if it processed in a country using components imported from another country – which is often the case.
- T-shirt cut and sewn in Vietnam using fabrics from China
- Shoes manufactured in Mexico using materials from China and Poland
- Electronic product assembled in China using components from Japan and Korea
Rules of origin for products processed in more than a country
If a product is manufactured, assembled, or contains materials/components that originated from more than a country, then the rules of origin state that the country of origin shall correspond to the last country where the product underwent a “substantial transformation”.
According to the CBP, these are the main factors that shall be taken into consideration to determine if a “substantial transformation” occurred:
a. Whether the character, name or use of the finished article has changed. For example, different chemical substances are processed in order to create a cosmetic product, thus changing the character, name, and use of the finished good
b. Whether the value of the finished product has substantially increased, with respect to the sum of the values of the single components and materials used to make the product. For instance, different electronic components are assembled to create an electronic device that achieves a specific goal (ie. a radio or a TV)
c. Whether the essential character of the product is provided by the manufacturing process, or by the original materials and components. As an example, a printed book as a completely different character than the original wood pulp used to manufacture the paper
d. Whether the cost of production represents a relevant percentage of the value of the finished good, which might include labor costs, tooling costs (ie. injections molding), utilities’ costs (ie. electricity, water, gas), and more
Here some examples of transformations that are generally not considered as “substantial”:
a. Repacking a product
b. Diluting a product with water
c. Freezing vegetables
d. Assembling a product without adding substantial value to the finished good; for example in the case of furniture that is shipped before final assembly for the only goal of saving space in the container
Since the determination of the country of origin is based on factors that are subject to interpretation, in case of doubts the CBP tends to rely on a body of court decisions, in order to make a final decision.
Example A: Smartwatch assembled in China
An American company imports smartwatches assembled by a manufacturer in Shenzhen, China. As is always the case with electronics, many components (e.g. CPU and sensors) originate from suppliers in other countries, such as Korea and Japan. That said, many parts and materials are procured from suppliers in China, and the product is developed, assembled, and packed there.
Hence, the smartwatch should be labeled as Made in China.
Example B: T-shirt repacked in Vietnam
An American importer imports t-shirts from a supplier in Vietnam. The only problem is that the t-shirts are actually manufactured in China, and only shipped to Vietnam for logo printing and repacking. In this case, it’s hard to argue that the product is actually made in Vietnam, and should likely be labeled as Made in China.
Certificate of Origin
A Certificate of Origin is a document declaring the manufacturing country of origin in shipment. Note that the Certificate of Origin criteria can differ between countries.
This information is generally included in the Certificate of Origin:
- Importer’s details
- Shipping’s route and carrier
- Product’s details (name, weight, volume)
- Declaration of “Country of Origin”
The Certificate of Origin can be used together with the commercial invoice, to support your “Country of Origin” claims.
Transhipments, which involves shipping finished products through a third-country on the way to the final destination, shall not alter the Country of Origin marking by any means. For example, you cannot relabel your products as Made in Vietnam by shipping finished goods from China only to have them repacked in Vietnam.
Note that customs authorities might also require importers and manufacturers to provide evidence such as country of origin certificates, invoices, and other records.
In this section, we introduce some of the special statutory Country of Origin marking requirements, which apply to certain products.
Watches & Clocks Country of Origin
Country of origin rules generally requires that the manufacturing country of origin is permanently labeled on the product and its packaging. However, this is different when it comes to watches.
The origin of wristwatches is determined by the origin of the movement, rather than the country of watch assembly. As such, many watches assembled in China are still labeled as ‘Japan Movement’ rather than Made in China.
Keep in mind that the movement origin depends on the actual manufacturing country – not brand origin. For example, a Miyota movement manufactured in Japan is, therefore, a Japan Movement, while a Seiko (also a Japanese company) movement manufactured in Thailand is not.
Special markings on certain products
The CBP also specifies the marking method on certain products including the followings:
- Knives and forks
- Scissors and razors
- Surgical instruments
In this case, manufacturers or importers shall use one of the following marking methods:
- Cast-in mold lettering
- Etching (acid or electrolytic)
- Other prescribed marking
The CBP provides a list of products for which the Country of Origin marking is not required, such as:
a. Works of art produced in a country belonging to the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement)
b. Certain coffee, tea, and spice products
c. Silk scarves and silk fabric
d. Products that are not imported for being resold
How do I ensure that my products are correctly labeled?
Many importers assume that their overseas suppliers understand the country of origin labeling requirements in the United States. That said, the US is the only major country that requires a country of origin for all products. Either way, assuming that your supplier knows anything about compliance requirements in other countries can be potentially disastrous.
Instead, you need to create a ready-to-print country of origin label file for your supplier. You should also provide the following information:
- Label placement
- Label dimensions
- Type (e.g. print or engraving9
Pre-shipment quality inspections should also include country of origin label checks, in order to make sure that your products are correctly labeled before shipment to the United States. Relabeling your products on arrival may end up costing more than their worth.