Exporting to the United States - Labelling, marking and standardization
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On this page
- 7. Labelling, Marking and Standardization
- 7.1 Country of origin
- 7.2 Harmonized System (HS) codes
- 7.3 Technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment
- 7.4 Labelling and marking requirements of U.S. agencies
- 7.4.1 Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- 7.4.2 Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- 7.4.3 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
- 7.4.4 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)
- 7.4.5 Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
- 7.4.6 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- 7.4.7 Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC)
- 7.4.8 Department of Labor (DOL)
7. Labelling, marking and standardization
Labelling and marking provide essential information for the shippers and other people who handle your goods and are required for transit across the United States border. Standardization helps ensure that your goods meet U.S. requirements and will make it easier for you to export to the U.S. market.
7.1 Country of origin
Every item imported into the U.S. has to be indelibly labelled with its country of origin. You will find detailed information about this labelling on the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection trade publications page, at
www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/newsroom/publications/trade; scroll down to the document titled "Marking of Country of Origin."
Note that this requirement and the NAFTA Rules of Origin requirement are not the same thing. See Section 4.1, "The North American Free Trade Agreement," for information about Rules of Origin.
7.2 Harmonized System (HS) codes
Before you can export your product, you will have to determine the Harmonized System code (HS code) that applies to it. The Harmonized System is an international commodity-description and coding system, and most countries’ tariffs are based on it. You will need the correct HS code at the U.S. border, where the customs authorities will use it to determine the duties, taxes and regulations that apply to your shipment.
In Canada, HS codes are based on an international six-digit root with an additional two digits added for Canadian domestic purposes. There is also a 10-digit version designed to give statistical information about exports. You can find out more about these codes through the World Customs Organization (WCO) website at
www.wcoomd.org/home_hsnomenclature_2012.htm, under the "HS Codes and Tariffs" link.
Statistics Canada also has a reference page on Canadian Export Classification; refer to www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/65-209-x/65-209-x2012000-eng.htm. The reference lets you search by commodity description or HS code, and also provides a tool for converting Canadian eight-digit export codes to the 10- digit codes the U.S. uses for imports. (The U.S. sometimes refers to the codes as "HTS Codes" - Harmonized Tariff Schedule Codes).
You can see how the U.S. version of the HS structure works by visiting the Tariff Information Centre on the U.S. International Trade Commission website at www.usitc.gov/tariff_affairs.
7.3 Technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment
Before you try to ship any goods across the border, you should find out whether there are any U.S.-specified requirements related to the sale of your products or services in the United States. These requirements may be contained in government laws and/or regulations at the federal, state and/or local levels.
At the federal level in the U.S., there is a regulatory policy requirement under the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to consider the use of standards and to use them where this will achieve regulatory objectives. Refer to the Regulatory Affairs section of the OMB website at www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg for more information.
Standardization helps ensure that your goods meet U.S. requirements and will make it easier for you to export to the U.S. market.
7.3.1 Conformity Assessment
Conformity assessment helps ensure that products and services have the required characteristics, and that these characteristics are consistent from product to product and from service to service. Conformity assessment includes sampling, testing, inspection, certification, and quality and environmental system assessment and registration. It also includes accreditation of the competence of those activities by a third party and recognition (usually by a government agency) of an accreditation program’s capability.
7.3.2 The Standards Council of Canada
The Standards Council of Canada (SCC) maintains a website at www.scc.ca, with a section devoted to industry-related issues. It also provides a free information service (refer to www.scc.ca/en/information-services) that can help you:
understand the SCC's accreditation programs, services and activities;
identify applicable standards, regulations and conformity-assessment procedures that would apply to the market acceptance of your product;
find competent standards authorities to contact in Canada or abroad;
identify Canadian, international or foreign standards in a particular area; and
locate standards published or under development by a specific technical committee.
The SCC also provides custom research on a growing range of standards, legislation and conformity assessment requirements in world markets. There is a fee for this service; for more information, contact an SCC information officer at 613-238-3222.
7.3.3 Export Alert!
The SCC operates a service called Export Alert!, which will tell you about pending changes to trade-related regulations. In addition to tracking regulatory developments from a range of countries, Export Alert! allows you to monitor regulatory changes under the World Trade Organization Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, and under the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. Administrative features allow you to track your requests and access full texts, and offer links to a number of related information resources.
Export Alert! is made available through the SCC with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. To learn more about Export Alert! or to subscribe, visit https://alert.scc.ca/ExportAlert/Index.
Export Alert! sends you an e-mail warning when foreign (including U.S.) regulators are changing the requirements that apply to your products.
7.3.4 The SCC as a WTO/NAFTA Enquiry Point
The United States and Canada are required, under Chapter 9 of NAFTA and under the provisions of the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement, to notify their trading partners of any newly proposed technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures, or changes to existing ones. In Canada, notifications are received through the WTO/NAFTA Enquiry Point, which is managed by the SCC on behalf of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.
7.3.5 Conformity testing
Several agencies test Canadian products for conformity with U.S. standards. The major ones are CSA International and Underwriters Laboratories.
CSA International, at www.csa-international.org, is a voluntary, non-profit membership organization that is also a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL). This means that its marks are recognized as valid in the United States. Refer to their Product Areas section at www.csa-international.org/product_areas for information about the kinds of products certified by their standards.
Underwriters Laboratories Inc., at www.ul.com, is an independent, non-profit, product safety testing and certification organization. UL has both Canadian and U.S. branches and certifies products using several marks. Some are for Canadian standards, some for American, and some for both.
In the United States, the Department of Commerce (website at www.commerce.gov) is responsible for ensuring the recognition and use of internationally recognized standards, both in the U.S. and abroad. It also works with other U.S. government agencies and foreign governments to solve market-access problems related to foreign standards.
You can find out more about U.S. standards development and U.S. regulatory initiatives from the following organizations:
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a private, non-profit organization that administers and coordinates the U.S. voluntary standardization and conformity assessment system. Refer to www.ansi.org.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration. NIST develops and promotes measurement, standards, and technology to enhance U.S. productivity and facilitate trade. Refer to www.nist.gov.
7.3.6 The World Trade Organization Agreement on
Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
A particular class of standards, called Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), constitute a major part of the trade regime facing Canadian exporters of agricultural and other natural resource products. If you are an exporter of such products, shipping your goods across the U.S. border may require that you meet these standards, as specified in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. For details, refer to www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/sps_e/sps_e.htm.
This agreement concerns the application of food safety and animal and plant health standards and regulations. According to the WTO:
The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures sets out the basic rules for food safety and animal and plant health standards. It allows countries to set their own standards. But it also says regulations must be based on science. They should be applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health. And they should not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between countries where identical or similar conditions prevail.
Member countries are encouraged to use international standards, guidelines and recommendations where they exist. However, members may use measures that result in higher standards if there is scientific justification. They can also set higher standards based on an appropriate assessment of risks so long as the approach is consistent, not arbitrary.
The agreement still allows countries to use different standards and different methods of inspecting products.
The SPS Agreement encourages countries to use commonly-agreed-on international standards and regulations, and to recognize each other's testing procedures and standards, so that domestically produced goods don't receive an unfair advantage in a country's domestic marketplace.
To help exporters understand and keep up with the standards that apply to their particular market and product, the WTO requires all member governments to set up an "enquiry point." In Canada, this is the Standards Council of Canada, whose website is at www.scc.ca. Related bodies are the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (www.inspection.gc.ca) and Health Canada (www.hc-sc.gc.ca).
Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) constitute a major part of the trade regime facing Canadian exporters of agricultural and other natural resource products.
7.4 Labelling and marking requirements of U.S. agencies
As well as requiring licences for certain types of imports, several United States agencies have special marking and labelling rules. If your shipments do not comply with them, your exports may not be allowed to cross the border. Check with the appropriate agency for specific information about your product and the marking and labelling it requires.
The major American agencies with special labelling rules are described in the following sections.
7.4.1 Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC, at www.ftc.gov, provides business-oriented information about labelling, including the requirements of the U.S. Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. The Act applies to goods that are consumed - a candle is consumed, for example, and is subject to the Act, while the candle holder, which is not consumed, is not.
There are other regulations that apply to textiles, clothing, wool, fur and leather. The FTC publication "Threading Your Way Through the Labeling Requirements Under the Textile and Wool Acts", is a user-friendly source of information on these rules; you will find it at www.business.ftc.gov/documents/bus21-threading-your-way-through-labeling-requirements-under-textile-and-wool-acts. Visit the FTC Business page at www.business.ftc.gov for more information on labelling.
7.4.2 Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The FDA, at www.fda.gov, regulates food labelling in the United States and also has authority over the labelling of dietary supplements, cosmetics, drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter), medical devices, devices that emit radiation, animal foods, drugs and cosmetics. Their website at
www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/lab-ind.html, provides information about this labelling.
If you are a small business, be sure to check out the Small Business Food Labeling Exemption, described at
www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/FoodLabelingGuidanceRegulatoryInformation/SmallBusinessNutritionLabelingExemption/default.htm, which may make your labelling requirements less rigorous. Note that the exemption applies only to the requirement for a nutrition labelling statement, one of the five mandatory statements that the FDA requires on a label.
7.4.3 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
The USDA (www.usda.gov), through its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) at www.fsis.usda.gov, is responsible for ensuring that the U.S. commercial food supply is safe, wholesome and correctly packaged and labelled. The FSIS Labeling and Consumer Protection page, which you will find at
www.fsis.usda.gov/About_FSIS/labeling_&_consumer_protection/index.asp, provides much of the information you will need.
Most labels on retail packages of meat or poultry must be pre-approved by the FSIS. The Labelling Procedures section of the website at
www.fsis.usda.gov/Regulations_&_Policies/Labeling_Procedures/index.asp has information about doing this. The same page leads to information about products that may enter the U.S. with generic labelling, which does not require pre-approval from FSIS.
The USDA is also responsible for the National Organic Program (NOP) at
Note that the U.S. Bioterrorism Act will probably affect you if you export food and agricultural products to the United States; for more information, see Section 9.3, "U.S. legislation affecting exporters."
7.4.4 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)
The ATF, at www.atf.gov, ensures that alcoholic beverages sold in the U.S. are labelled according to regulations. You must apply to have your label approved, which you do through the Alcohol Labeling and Formulation Division (ALFD); you can contact them inWashington, D.C. at 1-202-927-8140. You will need to fill out Form F5100.31, "Application for and Certification/Exemption of Label/Bottle Approval," which you can download from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) web page at www.ttb.gov/forms/f510031.pdf.
7.4.5 Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Unless otherwise specified, all articles entering the United States must be marked with a country-of-origin statement. The rules for country-of-origin marking are in Title 19, Part 134 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). For details, refer to www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/cfr-table-search.html, which will allow you to reference the document online.
If you are sending printed material across the border, a label must state the country in which it was printed; "Printed in Canada," for example. However, if the material is NAFTA-qualified and is not intended for resale (such as brochures you will be giving away), this label is not necessary. For more information, refer to NAFTA Part Two, Chapter Three, Section B, Article 306. The text is available at www.nafta-sec-alena.org/en/view.aspx?conID=590&mtpiID=125#A306.
7.4.6 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The EPA (www.epa.gov) deals with protection of the environment in the U.S. If your product contains chemicals that may come under the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act, it may need special labelling.
Any product that purports to be a pesticide, fungicide, rodenticide or anti-microbial agent is subject to the U.S. Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which is under the authority of the EPA. (This excludes products associated with cosmetics or over-thecounter drugs, which are under the FDA.) For information on labelling pesticides, which is in Chapter Two of the EPA Label Review Manual, refer to www.epa.gov/oppfead1/labeling/lrm/chap-03.pdf. The rules governing the FIFRA are in Title 40, Part 152 of the CFR. For details, refer to www.gpo.gov/fdsys/search/pagedetails.action?collectionCode=CFR&searchPath=Title+40%2FChapter+I%2FSubchapter+E%2FPart+152&granuleId=&packageId=CFR-2007-title40-vol1&oldPath=Title+40%2FChapter+I%2FSubchapter+E%2FPart+152&fromPageDetails=true&collapse=true&ycord=162, which will allow you to reference the document online.
The EPA is also responsible for the national volatile organic compound emission standards for consumer products. These are in Title 40, Subpart C of Part 59 of the CFR.
For more information about EPA requirements, contact one of the EPA regional offices listed at www.epa.gov/aboutepa/index.html#regional.
7.4.7 Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC)
The CPSC, at www.cpsc.gov, is responsible for the proper labelling of various hazardous substances and articles. These rules can be found in Title 16, Part 1500 of the CFR; for details, refer to www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2012-title16-vol2/pdf/CFR-2012-title16-vol2-sec1500-135.pdf, which will allow you to reference the document online. The CPSC is also responsible for the labelling requirements of flammable products. The rules for this are in Title 16, Parts 1608 and 1609 of the CFR. For details, refer to www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2012-title16-vol2/pdf/CFR-2012-title16-vol2-sec1608-2.pdf, which will allow you to reference the document online.
7.4.8 Department of Labor (DOL)
The Department of Labor is responsible for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). The rules on hazard communication, including labelling and information sheets regarding hazardous products, are in Title 29, Section 1910.120 of the CFR. For details, refer to www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2011-title29-vol5/pdf/CFR-2011-title29-vol5-sec1910-120.pdf, which will allow you to reference the document online.
If you are shipping your product to an end user (that is, someone who will not be re-selling it), you may be able to obtain a marking exemption. Contact U.S. Customs at
www.cbp.gov or a U.S. customs broker to find out if you qualify.
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