What is a Certificate of Origin?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A certificate of origin (CO or COO) is a document which provides information about the origin of a product being shipped. In this case, “origin” refers to the nation of manufacture, or the country in which the product was most recently modified or substantially changed. In cases where products include components from multiple countries the certificate of origin usually declares the nation which contributed the highest percentage of materials in terms of purchase price. These documents must be included in shipping manifests for many international exports and imports.

Many international imports and exports require a COO as a part of the shipping manifests.
Many international imports and exports require a COO as a part of the shipping manifests.

A typical shipping manifest usually lists the origins of the products anyway, but an additional certificate of origin may also be required, depending on the nation of origin and where the products are being shipped to. Numerous companies make boilerplate certificates of origin which people can fill out with all of the necessary information, and it's also possible to generate the document from scratch. Companies which regularly ship goods internationally may have a computer program which makes certificates of origin for them.

There are a number of reasons why a certificate of origin may be required. In the case of nations which have free trade agreements with each other, the COO is used to demonstrate that tariffs and fees should be reduced or waived for the shipment. In other cases, certificates of origin are used to document the movement of goods across the border for the purpose of monitoring quotas and keeping track of imports and exports. Treaties and trade agreements usually specify when and where certificates of origin will be required.

Some nations require certificates of origins for some products, but not all, from other countries. It is usually possible to obtain a specific list so that someone can see whether or not the document will be needed. For example, a company intending to ship medical supplies made in Switzerland to New Zealand can check with trade authorities to see whether or not a certificate of origin will be required.

Country of origin labeling of products is also something which some consumers expect and demand. Consumers may want to avoid products from countries which they do not wish to support, or to seek out products made in other nations. A certificate of origin makes it easy to document where products were made so that labels can be accurate and consumers will be able to make informed choices when they are making decisions about what they want to buy at the store.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@bythewell - It's not just the health concerns that should influence your buying habits.

Export certificates of origin can also show you if food has been shipped from a long distance, using up fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming.

You might also want to avoid buying things that you know have been grown in bad circumstances like palm oil from Indonesia. They are cutting down rain forest in order to grow it, so boycotting the product might help to stop that.

Often the origin of some of the products is obscured though, because current certification processes only require one country to be named, and lots of products are made up of things from several countries.


Certificates of origin are so important when it comes to buying food. The good thing about it is that with fruits and vegetables it's usually not possible to get a mixed message because the food isn't processed in a different place from where it is grown (as is the case with other products).

But, for example, garlic grown in one country will have a completely different taste to garlic grown in a different country.

It might also be treated with chemicals in order to stop it from spreading disease when it is exported somewhere else.

And there are even trace minerals, like selenium that are only present in foods grown in certain places.

So knowing where your food comes from can be vital to a healthy and diverse diet.

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