Country of Origin Marking: “Designed In” isn't “Made In”


It’s become sort of voguish to mark consumer product packaging with descriptions such as “Proudly Designed in Silicon Valley” and “Thoughtfully Assembled in the USA”. While the written words may be (technically) true, they’re no substitute for properly listing the Country of Origin (“COO”) on the product and/or package.

Mess up on this and you can get sideways with the United States Custom Service. This can trigger delays in clearing your shipment, a marking duty penalty equal to 10% of the customs value, or worse, camping out in a warehouse or inside a forty foot container, stickering each unit in your order.

The law is clear on what’s needed: every imported item manufactured outside of the USA needs to to be marked in a conspicuous place. The marking should be legible, indelible, and permanent (no disappearing ink, no microscope needed to read the two point font). The name of the country of origin must be listed in English in such a way to clearly let the ultimate customer in the USA know where the product was manufactured.

Complying with all of this is relatively simple. Here’s a checklist of the steps that will keep your goods moving quickly to your customers:

Mark the Package or Product?
The law is meant to make the COO obvious to the end purchaser. If your widget is sold at retail in a carton or blister pack, the mark the packaging. If it’s beer cooler sold without packaging, then you must mark the item. If you’re not sure how it will be sold, mark both the package and the product.

How Permanent is Permanent?
Die striking, debossing, embossing, laser scribing, pad printing/silk screening and other traditional marking methods pass the reasonableness test for permanence. Having stated that, if you’re selling into multiple geographies, it may not be practical to use a separate die for each country. In this case, a clearly printed label is acceptable.

And If You Do Label…
The label needs to be well affixed. Use robust adhesive so that the label won’t fall off during transit. This also discourages nefarious retailers from scraping off your label.

What About Mixed-Origin Products?
If the coffee maker is made in Iceland and the carafe is made in Portugal, each requires its own COO. Or if you choose to mark the packaging, then, “Coffee Maker Made in Iceland, Carafe Made in Portugal” works.

Can We Use a “Made in USA” Label?
Yes, if the product undergoes “substantial transformation”. Installing a battery in a wrist watch does not qualify. If in doubt, consult an international trade attorney.

Other Clever Labeling?
“Responsibly Made in Argentina” likely passes the smell test. “Sustainably Sourced in Palau” probably doesn’t.

Well placed and straightforward Country of Origin marking will help your shipment get to your customers smoothly. Best to it simple, clear and obvious.

Jack Daniels

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