What Are Country of Origin Labels and What Do They Mean for Consumers?

These are labels that indicate the country where a product was made. They are intended to help consumers make informed choices about the goods they purchase.

There are several different types of country of origin labeling systems, but the most common is the “Product of.”  This must be affixed to a product if all of the labor and materials used to produce the item originated in the country listed on the label.

“Made in” tags are also common, but they are not as specific as “Product of” labels. 

A product listed as “Made in” may have been assembled or manufactured in the country listed on the label.  But some of the labor or raw materials used to produce the product may have come from other countries.

Random Exception to the Rule

The tariff act of 1930 states that the ultimate purchaser should be aware of the place their product originates from.  He or she is the last person who receives it before a substantial transformation of such article takes place. 

One item COOL labeling requirements doesn’t apply to is dead animals.  Don’t ask us why, it just is. 

However, the immediate container received by the ultimate purchaser still needs some sort of label.  It could say something like, “Dead animal inside.”

How Can Country of Origin Labels Help You Make Informed Decisions About the Products You Buy?

For consumers who want to buy products that are made in their own country or who want to avoid goods that are made in certain other countries, they can be helpful. 

For example, some consumers may want to buy only “Product of USA” labeled goods in order to support American jobs.  When President Trump was in the White House, he made this a priority of his administration.

There was a concerted effort to limit the dependence on those coming from foreign countries.  Although uncommon, changing the Tariff Act is another tool considered for articles of foreign origin entering the U.S.

Others may avoid products with “Made in China” labels due to concerns about working conditions or environmental standards in that country.

The deliberate removal of labels from an imported article by manufacturers to hide where they’re finally assembled won’t be worth the sale.  Because fines and many complicated factors from customs regulations would ensue.

Country of Origins Unknowns

However, it is important to remember that labels may not always have the proper marking.

Perhaps a substantial transformation occurs during a country change.  Material of substantial quantities added in the second country could change the country of origin. 

In some cases, products may be labeled with a country of origin marking that is different from the actual country they were made in. Additionally, these labels do not always provide information about the working conditions or environmental standards in the nation where a good was made. 

As a result, consumers should not rely solely on an article’s origin when making purchasing decisions.

Are All Products Required To Have a Country of Origin Label, Why?

No, not all products are required to have a country of origin label. Although it is voluntary in most cases, there are some exceptions. 

For example, the United States government requires that certain perishable agricultural commodities be labeled from their mother country. The marking requirements for food products are established by the US Department of Agriculture.

More exceptions to the article’s character needing a label:

  • Container reaches the ultimate purchaser unopened
  • Crude substance
  • Processing may make it permanently concealed
  • Original works of art from a NAFTA country

Some manufacturers choose not to label their products with an origin marking because they source materials and labor from more than one country. 

This would be done if they predicted a foreign origin would affect the subsequent purchaser.

In these cases, the product may be labeled with a generic “Made in” label, or the manufacturer may choose not to provide any information about the country of origin. 

Other manufacturers may choose not to label their products in such a manner because they believe that doing so would make their products less competitive.

Information for Imported Articles

Upon request by the USDA, retailers and suppliers must provide evidence of the manufacturing process for the article considered.  

Here’s one reason why you’ll want a system for storing the paperwork they may need at some point.

The person who initially imported a commodity must keep records for one year from when the marked container reaches the border to when it ends up in the hands of the ultimate purchaser.  Should they not, criminal penalties up to $10,000 may be assessed for each violation.

How To Determine the Country of Origin Requirements for Your Product

There are a few ways to determine the origin marking requirements for your product. One way is to check with your local Chamber of Commerce or other business organization. 

If you are selling a product in the United States, you will need to comply with all the components established by the US Federal Trade Commission. 

This individual marking applies to most consumer products, including clothing, electronics, and toys. Under the US Federal Trade Commission’s rules, manufacturers and retailers must label their products correctly if “all or virtually all” the parts are made in that country.

When selling a food product in the United States, they must be properly marked as established by the US Department of Agriculture. These requirements apply to certain food items, including meat, poultry, and certain fruits and vegetables. 

Under the US Department of Agriculture’s rules, manufacturers and retailers must label their goods with the country of origin if the product is “directly or indirectly” made in that country.

Marking Purposes Aimed at Sales

It is important to note that, even if a product is not required to be labeled with a country of origin, the manufacturer or retailer may still choose to do so. 

For example, a manufacturer may label its product if it believes that doing so would be beneficial to its sales and advertising.

Comparable size letters on adhesive labels marked prior in a popular secondary country that leads to increased revenue may be considered.

Violating the Marking Branch

The penalties for violating rules established by the US Federal Trade Commission or the US Department of Agriculture can be severe. Manufacturers and retailers who fail to comply with these requirements can be subject to civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation. 

The US Federal Trade Commission can require companies to stop selling products that are not properly labeled.

Products that are made in the United States and exported to another country are not required to be labeled with a country of origin marking. 

In addition, imported goods that are made in the United States and then returned to the country are also exempt from the labeling requirements.

Finally, there are some products that do not need to be labeled at all. These items include those that are considered “non-consumer” goods, such as industrial products.

Are There Other Label Requirements for Goods Imported to the United States?

Besides the country of origin labeling requirements, there are other rules that may apply to products imported into the United States. 

For example, all imported foods must be labeled in accordance with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

They must also meet certain standards established by the US Department of Agriculture. These standards apply to things such as the size, shape, and color of the food. 

In addition, imported foods must be free of harmful pesticides and other chemicals.

Products that are imported into the United States may also be subject to labeling requirements imposed by individual states. These requirements vary from state to state, so you will need to check with the authorities in the state where you plan to sell your product.

Imported Article Clothing Rules

The FTC and U.S. Customs and Border protection (CBP) oversee the proper marking for any textile or apparel product.  Washing instructions must be legibly marked and last the life of a garment.  

The inside center of the neck is the common place for most of the necessary information viewable using normal vision.  And others like labels indicating fabric content should be put in a conspicuous place.

Reidel Law Firm Assisting International Businesses

As experts in international trade law, we can help you handle the legal aspects of any country of origin issues.

Our international trade law division also supports:

  • Import Compliance
  • Export Compliance
  • Litigation before the Court of International Trade (Section 337, anti-dumping/countervailing, and other trade related cases)
  • Trade Compliance Audits and Training

Call Reidel Law Firm today at (832)510-3292 or fill out our form to see how we can help your business expand internationally.

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