The ICC Guide to Authenticate Certificates of Origin for International Business

Enabling international business to tackle origin irregularities and fraud

What is a Certificate of Origin?

A Certificate of Origin (CO) is an important international trade document required by businesses, banks and customs officials to authenticate the origin of exported goods. Annually, millions of certificates of origin are issued by chambers of commerce around the world.

There are two types of CO:

  • Non-preferential: Certify that the good are subject to no preferential treatment.
  • Preferential: Certify that goods are subject to reduced tariffs or exceptions when they are exported to countries extending these privileges.

Who can issue a CO?

The responsibility for issuing a CO is restricted to organisations that are classified as a reliable authority or agency. In most countries, these organisations are chambers of commerce, who issue manual and electronic CO (eCO).

  • Manual CO: If a chamber issues a CO manually using a specific paper form, the document will bear the chamber’s stamp and signature.
  • Eco: If a CO is issued online as a pdf, the documents are generally printed, and no wet stamp and signature is necessary.

How does fraud occur with CO?

Typically, fraud begins with identity theft, meaning criminals use the details of an existing company to create trust. Goods are then placed on an online marketplace or a specially created, fake website to attract international buyers.

When a potential buyer shows interest in the goods, a fake set of documents, including a CO, is produced. Based on these documents, the buyer believes that a shipment is ready and agrees to make payment. However, in reality there are no goods or shipment and the buyer’s money is lost.

Why is eCO the way forward?

Chambers and exporters are increasingly moving towards eCO. eCO streamline processes and ensure security, however accelerating the digitalisation of this process has become essential in the age of COVID-19.

Trusted third party trade facilitators, such as chambers of commerce, are needed more than ever to secure trade documentation and transaction processes between exporters and importers.

The ICC and World Chambers Federation’s International CO Council, works to ensure that the chambers’ role in the issuance and attestation of COs and other trade documents is both unique and vital to the facilitation of international trade.

How to verify an eCO?

Importers, customs authorities, chambers and trade stakeholders can and are encouraged to, verify the authenticity of a CO bearing an ICC CO label via the ICC WCF Certificate of Origin Verification website. This tool is provided within the framework of the ICC WCF International CO Accreditation Chain, a network of chambers that apply globally and widely to accepting the high issuing standards and procedures of the ICC WCF International CO Guidelines.

To learn more about COs, please visit Certificates of Origin.