Country of Origin Requirements in the United States: An Overview

Posted on 3 Comments

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.

  • We Help Brands & Importers With Product Compliance (US & EU)

    • Book a free consultation call today with Ivan Malloci to learn how we can help you with:
    • Product Requirements Lists
    • Product Certification
    • Product & Packaging Labeling
    • Lab Testing

    BOOK A FREE CONSULTATION

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:

Product Labeling

Form of Marking

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) accepts different forms for the Country of Origin marking, such as:

1. Printed labels

2. Engraving

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”

Packaging Labeling

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.

Accepted forms

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”
  • “USA”

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.

Accepted forms

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

Made in China label

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.

Examples

  • 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

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.

Product Exemptions

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
  • Clippers
  • Scissors and razors
  • Surgical instruments

In this case, manufacturers or importers shall use one of the following marking methods:

  • Die-stamping
  • Cast-in mold lettering
  • Etching (acid or electrolytic)
  • Engraving
  • Other prescribed marking

Marking Exemptions

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
  • Color

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.

  • (USA & EU)

    We Help Brands & Importers With Product Compliance (US & EU)

    • Product Requirements Lists
    • Product Certification
    • Product & Packaging Labeling
    • Lab Testing

    BOOK A FREE CONSULTATION


    Disclaimer: The Site cannot and does not contain legal advice. The legal information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of legal advice. THE USE OR RELIANCE OF ANY INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THE SITE IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.

    Full Disclaimer: Link

  • 3 Responses to “Country of Origin Requirements in the United States: An Overview

    1. Hector at 11:10 pm

      Hi Vincent,

      I’m importing a product from China to USA. The product has the label “made in china”. This product is put in a paper envelope which has my brand name printed on it. And then this envelope is put in a polybag. This polybag has the suffocation warning.

      Do I need to print “made in China” either on the paper envelope or the polybag in order to pass the US Customs inspection?

      Again, my product has the permanent “made in China” label on it.

      Kind regards,
      Hector

    2. George Alleman at 4:13 am

      I purchased a mattress lifter to be used while making up the bed. The tracking information showed the product originated in Iceland. When the package arrived, it had a shipping label applied over the original that was addressed to me from China Post. The latest label showed a return address of somewhere in the United States.There is no marking saying the country of origin on the product. Is there any problem with any of this?

    3. Dan Pontis at 1:23 am

      Hi Vincent

      Quick Question Who is Pudding Cat? My wife purchased Pudding Cat Yoga wheels from one of a number of large retail outlets that offer this product There is no mention on the box or the product of where they are made, If you Google Pudding Cat there is np mention of Pudding Cat on line, they do not show as a business partner for any of the charities they state the contribute to They are sold by Deep Motor but if yo Google Deep Motor I can’t find them either. How does Amazon, Target Walmart etc. sell this product if the manufacturer is not following the law?

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Webinar: Product Compliance For Importers & Amazon

    Learn what you MUST KNOW about safety standards, chemical restrictions, labeling & certification for consumer products in the US, EU & UK

     

    You can ask questions during the presentation!

     

    Time: 11 AM and 7 PM