Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for Rules of Origin

1. What are the rules of origin?
2. Why do we need the rules of origin?
3. What is the main difference between non-preferential rules of origin and preferential rules of origin?
4. Where do I find rules of origin?
5. I want to know the origin for a product/the interpretation of rules of origin applied for a product
6. When does an importer need a certificate of origin?
7. I want copies of documents or reports of the Technical Committee on Rules of Origin
8. Can representatives of the private sector participate in meetings of the Technical Committee on Rules of Origin?
9. Can I get access to the Members Area of the WCO Web Site?
10. Where can I find …?
11. How can I purchase WCO publications on Rules of Origin?

1. What are the rules of origin?

Rules of origin are used to determine the origin of goods. There may be several ways to define rules of origin. The WCO, in the International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures (so-called Kyoto Convention which entered into force in 1974) defines rules of origin as follows:

“The specific provisions, developed from principles established by national legislation or international agreements applied by a country to determine the origin of goods.” (Annex D, currently Annex K to the Revised Kyoto Convention).

The Agreement on Rules of Origin (Annex 1A to the Marrakech Agreement establishing the World Trade Organization in 1995) sets forth the definition for the Non-Preferential Rules of Origin and for the Preferential Rules of Origin as follows:

“Rules of Origin shall be defined as those laws, regulations and administrative determinations of general application applied by any Member to determine the country of origin of goods provided such rules of origin are not related to contractual or autonomous trade regimes leading to the granting of tariff preferences going beyond the application of paragraph 1 of Article I of GATT 1994.” (Article 1.1).

“Preferential Rules of Origin shall be defined as those laws, regulations and administrative determinations of general application applied by any Member to determine whether goods qualify for preferential treatment under contractual or autonomous trade regimes leading to the granting of tariff preferences going beyond the application of paragraph a of Article 1 of GATT 1994” (Annex II, Paragraph 1).

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2. Why do we need the rules of origin?

The basic role of rules of origin is the determination of the nationality of a given good, which must not be confused with the country of provenance (i.e., the last country that a given good passed through). There are several mandatory legal or administrative requirements to observe when goods are traded on the international market. The origin of a good may determine, where appropriate, the application of trade policy measures and, hence, rules of origin are used:

  • to implement measures and instruments of commercial policy such as anti-dumping duties, countervailing and safeguard measures;
  • to determine whether imported products shall receive most-favoured-nation (MFN) treatment or preferential treatment;
  • for the purpose of trade statistics;
  • for the application of labelling and marking requirements;
  • for the application of discriminatory quantitative restrictions or tariff quotas and
  • for government procurement.

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3. What is the main difference between non-preferential rules of origin and preferential rules of origin?

  • Non-preferential rules of origin are used for the application of trade policy measures such as statistics, anti-dumping measures, origin marking and government procurement. Non-referential rules of origin cover all goods (all goods have a non-preferential origin);
  • Preferential rules of origin are used to obtain a preferential treatment at importation. In a Free Trade Agreement it is possible to exclude some goods from preferential treatment.

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4. Where do I find rules of origin?

There are currently over 350 preferential trade arrangements in place worldwide, which establish lower rates of customs duties for certain goods provided that the relevant origin criteria are met. Preferential rules of origin notified to the WTO Secretariat can be retrieved in the WTO RTA database.

Other sources of information are the WCO database of preferential trade agreements, the ITC-WCO-WTO Origin Facilitator, government websites, other international organizations (UNCTAD, Inter-American Development Bank etc.) etc.

In addition, many countries have their FTAs incorporated into a tariff system, so that you can see the different tariffs when checking a specific good from a specific country.

Until the Harmonization Work Programme (HWP) related to non-preferential rules of origin is completed, each country can have its own non-preferential rules of origin stipulated in national law. This means that non-preferential rules of origin in the exporting country and the destination country may vary.

The WTO Agreement on Rules of Origin requires each Member to notify its non-preferential rules of origin. The notifications can be found on the WTO website. The ITC-WCO-WTO Origin Facilitator will include non-preferential rules of origin based on the notifications and information of government websites.

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5. I want to know the origin for a product/the interpretation of rules of origin applied for a product

As an intergovernmental organization, the WCO does not provide information about the determination of the origin of goods to the private sector or to private persons. You are advised to contact the Customs Administration of the importing or exporting country for assistance. Advance rulings is a useful system in which the Customs Administration of the importing or exporting country provide a written decision on the origin of a product prior to its importation or exportation.

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6. When does an importer need a certificate of origin?

According to the Revised Kyoto Convention a certificate of origin is needed “only when necessary” for the application of trade policy measures (anti-dumping, quantitative restrictions) or for preferential purposes. There is no reference to certification in the WTO Agreement on Rules of Origin. However, a proof of origin is generally needed to obtain a preferential treatment, according to the provisions in the relevant FTA. You are advised to contact the Customs Administration of the importing or exporting country for details on the procedural aspects.

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7. I want copies of documents or reports of the Technical Committee on Rules of Origin

The WCO Secretariat maintains a historical documentation database ("Documents of the Technical Committee on Rules of Origin") to assist public research. This database contains Technical Committee on Rules of Origin documents and reports. Unfortunately, we have a back-log with regard to the publication of documents published prior to the 8th session of the TCRO.

For information on specific topics, you are advised to contact your national Customs administration.

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8. Can representatives of the private sector participate in meetings of the Technical Committee on Rules of Origin?

Subject to the approval of the Chairperson of the Technical Committee, the Secretary General of the WCO may invite representatives of governments which are neither Members of the WTO nor Members of the WCO and representatives of international governmental and trade organizations to attend meetings of the Technical Committee as observers.

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9. Can I get access to the Members Area of the WCO Web Site?

Access to the restricted Members Area of the WCO Web Site is reserved to the Customs authorities of the WCO Member Administrations.

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10. Where can I find …?

WTO Agreement on Rules of Origin

Find here the text of the Agreement on Rules of Origin, endorsed during the Uruguay Round to provide transparency to regulations and practices regarding Rules of Origin.

Tools related to origin certification

The WCO Guidelines on Certification of Origin are based on the studies on origin certification and offer practical explanations. The Guidelines aim to provide useful guidance for the Members to design, develop and achieve robust management of origin-related procedures.

Origin irregularities

The Origin Irregularity Typology Study was the first step taken in relation to origin irregularities under the Revenue Package. The second step is to provide advice to Customs authorities on ways to confront origin irregularities in practice. To this end the Secretariat, in cooperation with a number of Member Customs administrations, has developed the Guide to Counter Origin Irregularities.

Tools related to origin verification

Two documents have been developed by the WCO in order to assist Members in enhancing their capacity to verify preferential origin. They consist of a study on control and verification methods in Member Customs administrations and guidelines on verification of preferential origin.

Relations with HS

The WCO Guide for Technical Update of Preferential Rules of Origin provides practical information on how to conduct a technical update of Rules of Origin in relation to changes in the Harmonized System.

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11. How can I purchase WCO publications on Rules of Origin?

You can purchase rules of origin publications at the WCO Online bookshop, such as:

Origin database

This publication contains the following:

(a) The database of preferential trade agreements and related rules of origin includes:

  • the core text of the preferential trade agreements;
  • the provisions concerning the related rules of origin;
  • specimens of proof of origin (certificates of origin).

(b) The database also has a function allowing users to compare the core texts of rules of origin provisions of two to four different agreements

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