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What is Certificate of Origin (CO)?

Phuc Le
June 27, 2023

The Certificate of Origin (CO) is a fundamental document in international trade, ensuring transparency, fair trade practices, and compliance with regulations. Backed up by data and metrics, we have explored how COs contribute to accurate tariff determination, facilitate preferential trade agreements, combat illegal trade practices, meet consumer preferences, and assist in dispute resolution. Understanding the definition and significance of COs empowers exporters, importers, and industry professionals to navigate the global marketplace effectively, foster transparency, and facilitate seamless cross-border transactions.

What is Certificate of Origin (COs)?


Tariff Determination:

According to a study by the World Trade Organization (WTO), accurate tariff determination is crucial for promoting fair trade practices and avoiding tariff evasion. The CO plays a vital role in this process, enabling customs authorities to verify the origin of goods and apply the appropriate customs duties. This ensures that businesses compete on a level playing field, and countries collect the appropriate revenue for imports.

Trade Agreements and Preferential Treatment:

Trade agreements, such as free trade agreements, play a significant role in facilitating global trade. Research by the International Trade Centre (ITC) indicates that preferential trade agreements have led to a significant increase in trade flows and economic benefits. COs help exporters claim preferential tariff rates, duty exemptions, or other trade benefits stipulated in these agreements. This promotes market access, stimulates trade growth, and enhances the competitiveness of businesses.


Customs Compliance and Regulation:

The importance of customs compliance is evident in the fight against illegal trade practices. According to the World Customs Organization (WCO), counterfeiting and piracy alone account for 2.5% of global trade, amounting to trillions of dollars. The CO plays a crucial role in combating such practices by providing customs authorities with accurate information about the origin of goods. This helps prevent smuggling, ensure compliance with import regulations, and protect consumers from substandard or counterfeit products.

Consumer Preferences and Market Demands:

Consumers are increasingly concerned about product origin, sustainability, and ethical considerations. According to a survey by Nielsen, 66% of global respondents are willing to pay more for products from sustainable and socially responsible brands. The CO facilitates informed consumer choices by indicating the true origin of goods. This transparency helps businesses meet consumer preferences, build trust, and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

International Dispute Resolution:

Trade disputes can have significant economic implications. The availability of a valid CO serves as crucial evidence in resolving conflicts related to the origin of goods. The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) recognizes the importance of COs in international arbitration and dispute resolution. By presenting a valid CO, businesses can effectively defend their rights and interests, ensuring fair resolution processes and maintaining trust in global trade.



Understanding the different types of Certificate of Origin (CO) is vital for exporters, importers, and industry professionals involved in international trade. Non-preferential COs serve as standardized documents to certify origin, while preferential COs facilitate trade under preferential trade agreements. GSP COs enable developing countries to benefit from trade preferences, and specific industry COs cater to unique sector requirements. Re-export COs acknowledge the origin of goods in re-exporting countries. By utilizing the appropriate CO type, businesses can navigate international trade successfully, comply with regulations, and leverage trade benefits. The backed-up data and metrics emphasize the significance of COs in facilitating global commerce and promoting economic growth.

Non-Preferential Certificate of Origin:

The Non-Preferential Certificate of Origin is widely used for general trade purposes. According to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), it serves as a standardized document to certify the origin of goods, helping customs authorities determine the applicable tariffs and enforce import regulations. Non-preferential COs are issued by chambers of commerce or trade associations, with the ICC estimating that around 70% of all COs issued worldwide fall into this category.

Preferential Certificate of Origin:

Preferential Certificate of Origin is specifically designed to facilitate trade under preferential trade agreements. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), preferential trade agreements cover a significant portion of global trade, with around 320 such agreements in force as of 2020. Preferential COs enable exporters to claim reduced or exempted tariff rates and other trade benefits, promoting economic cooperation and market access. A study by the European Commission found that preferential trade agreements can lead to an average increase of 80% in trade flows between participating countries.

Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Certificate of Origin:

The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) aims to promote economic growth in developing countries by providing preferential trade treatment to their goods. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reports that over 120 countries have implemented GSP schemes. GSP Certificate of Origin allows eligible exporters to access duty-free or reduced-duty treatment in GSP beneficiary countries. According to UNCTAD, GSP schemes have contributed to an estimated $61 billion in additional exports for developing countries.

Specific Industry Certificate of Origin:

Specific Industry Certificate of Origin caters to the unique requirements of certain industries. For example, the Textile Declaration Certificate is used in the textile and apparel sector to demonstrate compliance with rules of origin and preferential trade agreements. In the agricultural sector, phytosanitary certificates may be required to ensure compliance with plant health regulations. These industry-specific COs play a crucial role in facilitating trade and ensuring compliance with sector-specific standards and regulations.

Re-export Certificate of Origin:

Re-export Certificate of Origin is essential when goods are exported from a country other than their original country of origin. These certificates acknowledge the origin of goods in the re-exporting country and assist customs authorities in tracking the movement of goods across different jurisdictions. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) emphasizes the importance of accurate documentation for re-exported goods to ensure compliance with trade regulations and facilitate customs procedures.



Applying for a Certificate of Origin (CO) requires meticulous attention to detail, compliance with trade regulations, and proper documentation. By following this comprehensive step-by-step guide, exporters can navigate the CO application process effectively. The utilization of accurate documentation and adherence to the established procedures will ensure a seamless international trade experience, leading to enhanced credibility, compliance, and successful trade transactions in the global marketplace.

  • Step 1: Determine the Required CO Type:

To start, identify the specific CO type required for your export transaction. Data from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) reveals that non-preferential COs are the most commonly used, accounting for approximately 70% of all COs issued worldwide. Understanding the appropriate CO type ensures compliance with trade regulations and sets the foundation for a successful application.

  • Step 2: Research the Issuing Authority:

Conduct thorough research to identify the authorized issuing authority for COs in your country or region. Chambers of commerce and trade associations often serve as the designated issuing authorities. According to the ICC, these entities issue the majority of COs globally. Ensure that the chosen authority is recognized and accepted by the importing country or trade partners to avoid any complications during the application process.

  • Step 3: Gather Required Documentation:

Gather all the necessary documentation to support your CO application. This includes commercial invoices, packing lists, bill of lading/airway bills, customs declarations, and other relevant trade documents. The World Customs Organization (WCO) emphasizes the importance of accurate and complete documentation for successful customs clearance. Proper documentation substantiates the origin of goods and ensures compliance with trade regulations.

  • Step 4: Complete the CO Application Form:

Obtain the CO application form from the authorized issuing authority and carefully complete it. Provide accurate information, such as exporter/importer details, description of goods, value, quantity, and relevant trade codes. According to research by the International Trade Centre (ITC), errors in CO documentation can lead to delays, increased costs, and even rejected shipments. Double-check the application form for accuracy and completeness.

  • Step 5: Submit the Application:

Submit the completed CO application form along with the supporting documents to the issuing authority. Follow the specific submission instructions provided by the authority, whether it's through electronic submission, physical copies, or online portals. According to the ITC, timely and proper submission of CO applications is crucial for avoiding shipment delays and ensuring compliance with customs requirements.

  • Step 6: Application Review and Verification:

The issuing authority will review your CO application and supporting documents to ensure compliance with trade regulations and accuracy. This may involve verifying the origin of the goods based on the documentation provided. Respond promptly to any requests for additional information or clarification from the issuing authority to expedite the review process.

  • Step 7: Payment of Fees (if applicable):

Check if there are any fees associated with the issuance of the CO. The ICC reports that fees for CO issuance vary by country and issuing authority. Payment of the applicable fees is necessary for the processing of the CO application. Keep a record of the payment receipt for future reference and financial documentation.

  • Step 8: Certificate Issuance:

Upon successful review and approval, the issuing authority will issue the CO. The CO will contain essential details, including exporter/importer information, goods description, origin declaration, and any necessary stamps or seals. The ICC emphasizes the importance of accurate COs for customs authorities to verify the origin of goods, facilitating smooth customs procedures.

  • Step 9: Maintain Records:

Make copies of the issued CO for your records and retain them along with all relevant supporting documents. Proper record-keeping is essential for future reference, customs clearance, and audits. The ITC advises exporters to maintain an organized system for managing COs and associated documentation to ensure easy retrieval when needed.



Certificates of Origin (COs) provide significant benefits in international trade. They serve as tangible proof of the origin of goods, establishing transparency, credibility, and compliance. COs enable exporters to meet trade regulations and access preferential trade agreements, leading to cost savings and enhanced market opportunities. Moreover, they facilitate smooth customs clearance, reducing delays and ensuring timely delivery of goods. The availability of a valid CO enhances the credibility and trustworthiness of exporters, fostering stronger business relationships. Additionally, COs play a crucial role in dispute resolution, providing essential evidence to address conflicts. By recognizing the value of COs and leveraging their benefits, businesses can navigate the complexities of global trade more effectively, gain a competitive edge, and foster growth in the global marketplace.

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