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What Are Country of Origin Labeling Requirements?

U.S. Customs requires that products be labeled with their country of origin. Learn more about these guidelines and the penalties for not following the rules.

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These days, the label “Made in China” is everywhere. This is actually a Customs requirement: all imported products must be marked with their country of origin. Countries of origin are where products were manufactured, produced, or grown.

The country of origin is necessary for many reasons, one of which is to make obvious whether a good can be legally imported and ensuring that products clear customs as efficiently as possible. In addition, it provides the US with statistics on imported goods, which is useful for future analysis on the country's economic market. Customs regulations state that every foreign product entering the US must be labeled, in English, with the country of origin. This marking must be:

  1. Clearly and visibly located on the product, and
  2. Written legibly and permanently.

Exceptions to labeling:

Some products are exempt from country of origin labeling. These include products that:

  • Are not intended for resale
  • Are incapable of being marked (e.g. if the product is very small)
  • Were produced more than 20 years prior to importation
  • Are crude substances
  • Would be ruined if directly marked upon (ex. fruit)

If the product is exempt from labeling, its packaging must be marked with the country of origin. For example, the crates or boxes containing fruit must indicate their origin.

Penalties:

If your products enter the US unmarked and Customs denies you of the right to mark them prior to resale, you may face the possibility of the following penalties:

  • Special Marking duties: can be up to 10% of the products’ total value
  • Delays: if goods aren’t marked properly, Customs will not release the shipment. They will ask for the goods to either be marked or re-exported out of the country
  • False certification penalties: can reach up to the total value of the merchandise
  • Civil penalties: if goods’ markings are changed falsely or obscured, penalties can reach as much as $50,000 per occurrence
  • Criminal penalties: incurred if the country of origin is intentionally misrepresented to circumvent a quota or other restriction

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