NAFTA Certificate of Origin: Basic Guidance
Source: Trade Information Center, U.S. Department of Commerce
The Trade Information Center helps businesses answer questions on the export process,
but final determination of NAFTA requirements rests with customs authorities.
1. Question. When should a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Certificate
of Origin be completed?
Answer. A NAFTA Certificate of Origin should only be completed for products exported
to Canada or Mexico that meet the NAFTA rules of origin for production in the
NAFTA countries. Inclusion of products which do not qualify is illegal and subject
to fines and penalties.
Elimination of Canadian and Mexican duties on U.S. products is one of the major
NAFTA benefits for U.S. suppliers. To ensure that the benefits of tariff removal
accrue to the NAFTA products, and not to Non-NAFTA products, NAFTA includes
tough rules of origin. Only products that meet the NAFTA rules of origin are
eligible for the preferential NAFTA duty rate.
NAFTA provides for zero duties on U.S.-Canada trade that meet the NAFTA rules
of origin and lower or zero tariffs on U.S.-Mexico NAFTA trade. Exemption from
duties means U.S. qualifying products are more price-competitive and therefore
more attractive to the Mexican and Canadian importers and consumers. U.S. qualifying
products can only benefit from the preferential tariff if the importer has a
NAFTA Certificate from the exporter.
By filling out a NAFTA Certificate of Origin, an exporter is certifying that
the covered goods meet the rules of origin and, therefore, qualifies for preferential
If the product does not qualify for NAFTA tariff preference, the Certificate
must not be completed, as the product is usually subject to the Most-Favored-Nation
(MFN) tariff rate, rather than the NAFTA rate.
2. Question. Is a NAFTA Certificate of Origin required for shipments to Canada and
Answer. No, a NAFTA Certificate of Origin is not required for shipments to Mexico
or Canada. Goods will clear Customs without a NAFTA Certificate. A NAFTA Certificate
should only be prepared by the exporter if the product qualifies for preferential
tariff treatment under the NAFTA rules of origin. If the Certificate is not
available, the higher MFN tariff will usually be applied. The MFN rate applies
to goods produced in most countries that do not qualify for the NAFTA preferential
A NAFTA Certificate of Origin is also not required for commercial importation
of a good into Canada or Mexico whose value does not exceed US$1000 or its equivalent
amount in the countrys currency. However, for such goods to qualify for
NAFTA preferential duty, the invoice accompanying the commercial importation
must include a statement certifying that the good qualifies as an originating
good under the NAFTA rule of origin. The statement should be attached to, or
handwritten, stamped or typed on the commercial invoice.
This exception is valid as long as the shipment does not form part of a series
of importations that may be reasonably considered to have been undertaken or
arranged for the purpose of avoiding the Certification requirement.
3. Question. When and how do I submit a NAFTA Certificate of Origin?
Answer. Once an exporter determines that the exported good will meet the NAFTA rules
of origin, a NAFTA Certificate of Origin must be completed accurately and legibly.
The exporter must then send the Certificate to the importer. While the Certificate
does not have to accompany the shipment, the importer must have a copy of the
Certificate in hand before claiming the NAFTA tariff preference when the goods
clear customs. Certificates of Origin may, at the discretion of the exporter,
cover a single importation of goods or multiple importations of identical goods.
In some cases an exporter may not have the Certificate of Origin ready at the
time of export. However, the importer may still make a post-importation claim
for NAFTA tariff preference once the importer receives a completed NAFTA Certificate
of Origin. The importer can then apply to their customs authority for a refund
of duties paid. The claim may be made up to one year after the importation of
4. Question. Where do I obtain the NAFTA Certificate of Origin form?
Answer. The NAFTA Certificate of Origin is available on the Trade Information Center
(TIC) website at http://www.trade.gov/td/tic by clicking on NAFTA. It is also
available on the website of the U. S. Customs Service at http://www.customs.treas.gov.
Click on forms and then on CBP form 434.
5. Question. Who is responsible for determining if the product qualifies under NAFTA
and for completing the Certificate?
Answer. The Certificate of Origin must be completed and signed by the exporter of
the goods. Where the exporter is not the producer, the exporter may complete
the Certificate on the basis of: knowledge that the good originates; reasonable
reliance on the producers written representation that the good originates;
or a completed and signed Certificate of Origin for the good voluntarily provided
to the exporter by the producer.
Exporters who are not producers often request that their producers or distributors
provide them with a Certificate of Origin as documentation that a good they
sell to Mexico or Canada meets the rule of origin, or that an input used in
a good produced by the exporter meets a NAFTA rule of origin. The NAFTA does
not obligate a producer who is not an exporter to provide the ultimate exporter
with a NAFTA Certificate of Origin. However, if the non-exporting producer does
complete the NAFTA Certificate of Origin, the producer is subject to the same
obligations regarding record keeping, etc., as the exporter. Even so, it is
the exporter's Certificate, and not the non-exporting producer's Certificate,
that must be provided to the importer. The producers statement should
be kept in the files of the exporter as backup for the exporters Certificate.
A distributor does not complete a Certificate of Origin for qualifying goods
unless the distributor is the exporter. A distributor, may, however, forward
a producer's Certificate of Origin to an exporter.
6. Question. What is the process for determining if a NAFTA Certificate of Origin
should be completed?
Answer. The NAFTA Certificate of Origin is a legal document and determining origin
can be a complex process. Completion of a NAFTA Certificate of Origin is an
affirmation that the party signing the document has researched the terms of
the NAFTA Agreement and has determined that the goods covered by the Certificate
of Origin are originating goods as defined by the Agreement. Preparation
of a NAFTA Certificate of Origin imposes certain legal rights, obligations and
liabilities on the party signing the document and should be based on a careful
inquiry into the terms of the text of NAFTA Agreement and other relevant United
A product does not automatically qualify for NAFTA tariff treatment just because
the product was manufactured in the United States or purchased from a U.S. company.
The product must meet the specific NAFTA rule of origin, and the exporter must
complete the NAFTA Certificate of Origin before the importer can claim the NAFTA
Follow these steps to determine if a NAFTA Certificate of Origin should be
Step 1. Determine the Harmonized System (H S) Number for the product to be
The NAFTA rules of origin are organized under the Harmonized System (HS). The
HS numbers are standardized classification numbers assigned to identify a specific
type of product in international trade. The HS number is used by Customs authorities
to apply duties and taxes. These numbers are typically 6 to 10 digits long.
The first 6 digits are standardized worldwide, while additional numbers are
used by some governments to further distinguish products in a certain category.
In the United States, HS numbers are also called Schedule B numbers.
To obtain tariff information, the HS number up to the 6-digit level is required.
The U.S. Census Bureau's Foreign Trade Division website can be used to obtain
HS numbers. The address is http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/www From this
site, click on Schedule B Keyword Search. If you have trouble classifying your
product and need assistance, call the Census Bureau at 301-763-3484. In addition,
the Schedule B: Statistical Classification of Domestic and Foreign Commodities
Exported from the United States can be ordered from the Government Printing
Office by calling 202-512-1800. The stock number is 903-009-00000-4, and the
cost of the book is $135. The CD-ROM version can also be purchased from the
Census Bureau for $50 by calling 301-763-4636.
Step 2. Determine the Canadian/Mexican MFN tariff for the product. If the MFN
rate is zero, no NAFTA Certificate is needed.
Tariff information is available from a number of sources, including your customs
broker, freight forwarder, the customs authorities of Canada and Mexico. You
can also call the TIC at 1-800-USA-TRAD(E) for tariff rates.
Step 3. If the MFN rate is not zero, use the HS number to find the applicable
the rule of origin in the NAFTA Agreement and determine if the product qualifies
for a NAFTA tariff rate.
When products meet the rules of origin and therefore qualify for NAFTA tariff
benefits, they are said to "originate." Article 401 of the NAFTA Agreement
established which goods originate and precludes goods from other countries from
obtaining those benefits by merely passing through Canada, Mexico or the United
States. Thus, not all goods made in Canada, Mexico and the United States qualify
for NAFTA benefits.
Chapter 4 of the NAFTA sets out most of the principles governing origin determination.
The NAFTA Rules of Origin (Annex 401) are located in the text of the NAFTA Agreement
on the website of the Organization of American States at http://www.sice.oas.org/trade/nafta/Anx401a1.asp
or on the NAFTA Customs website at http://www.cbp.gov/nafta/nafta_new.htm. (Select
NAFTA Topics, then Annex 401). For updates click on General Note 12(t). General
Note 12(t) NAFTA Rules of Origin are available at the following website: http://www.cbp.gov/nafta/docs/us/gn12t1-29.html
These updates are as interpreted for goods entering the United States. Final
interpretations for goods entering the other two NAFTA partners rest with representative
customs authorities in Canada (613-991-0537) and Mexico (52-55-228-3437).
Exporters must carefully research the terms of the Agreement to determine whether
their goods are entitled to NAFTA benefits. They should not assume that the
goods are entitled to NAFTA benefits merely because they were made in a NAFTA
For assistance call the TIC at 1-800-USA-TRAD(E) for non-agricultural products.
Step 4. If the product meets the NAFTA rule of origin, complete the NAFTA Certificate
of Origin. If the product does not meet the rule of origin, do not complete
7. Question. How long should copies of the Certificate of Origin be retained?
Answer. In the United States, the exporter is required to retain a copy of the Certificate
(or the Original) for five years from the date of signature. The importer is
required to retain the Certificate and all other documentation relating to the
importation of the goods for 5 years after the importation of the goods. The
facts asserted in the Certificate must be supported by adequate records relating
to the goods, their materials and production.
In Mexico, Mexican exporters must maintain a copy of the Certificate for 10
In Canada, Canadian importers and exporters are required to keep the Certificate
for six years from the time of the transaction for the importer and six years
from the date of signing for the Canadian exporter.
8. Question. What language should be used to complete the NAFTA Certificate of Origin?
Answer. A uniform Certificate of Origin is used in all three countries and is printed
in English, French or Spanish. The Certificate shall be completed in the language
of the country of export or the language of the importing country, at the exporters
discretion. Importers must submit a translation of the Certificate to their
own customs administration when requested.
The U.S. Department of Commerce, Trade Information Center maintains information
on the NAFTA rules of origin/certificate, including a link to the rules of origin,
on its website: http://www.trade.gov/td/tic Click on Country Information and
then click on NAFTA: Canada and Mexico and then on NAFTA Certificate of Origin.
TIC NAFTA specialists are also available to answer individual questions on the
process. The TICs telephone number is 1-800-USA-TRAD(E).
There are many regulations that may affect the completion of the NAFTA Certificate
of Origin. Some include U.S. export and customs regulations. In addition to
the text of the Agreement information on how to address these regulations can
be found in the U.S. Customs Services publication NAFTA: A Guide to Customs
Procedures, which is available on the NAFTA Customs website at http://www.cbp.gov/nafta/nafta_new.htm.
Information Source: Trade Information Center