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Rules of Origin and their importance when trading globally

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

With the UK leaving the EU and now acting as an independent nation signing new trade deals to enable UK exporters and importers to access new markets across the world, it is more important for traders to understand in more depth what rules of origin are and how these can enable either preferential or non-preferential access in those markets based on whether those goods meet their specific thresholds percentages for content.

Most of the current queries our International Trade team is receiving from traders revolved about whether their goods meet these rules and thus if they can claim preferential duty rates. The reality is that Rules of Origin may vary from Trade Agreement to Trade Agreement as well as the principle of cumulation, which also play an important role in all this.

So take a look at some of the basics:

What are Rules of Origin?

Origin is essentially the economic nationality of goods. All internationally traded goods are required to have an origin when declared to customs at the point of import. Rules of origin enable to establish the origin of the goods. There are two types of origin: preferential and non-preferential.

Preferential Origin

Preferential origin grant members access to domestic market at preferential tariffs. Thus, rules of origin help to determine whether goods qualify for the nil or reduced tariffs. They are a set of criteria that the goods need to comply with to be considered originating in the territory of the trade agreement when exported to an FTA partner. These rules are based on the HS Classification and are in most cases specific to a product.

Rules of origin are negotiated separately for every FTA and are attached to the main agreement in the form of a protocol or an annex on product specific rules of origin. Therefore, rules of origin vary significantly across agreements.

How can you determine the origin of your goods?

You can use one of the following options:

a) Wholly obtained products are goods obtained entirely in the territory of an FTA party without the addition of any non-originating materials. In some agreements, there is also a wholly produced category goods which are produced or manufactured exclusively from wholly obtained inputs and are treated a wholly obtained products.

b) Substantial transformation is a type of rule of origin that requires goods to undergo a certain process in order to be considered originating in a given country. This transformation can be expressed in three different ways.

  • Change in tariff classification: a rule that requires non-originating materials to have undergone a change in HS Classification in order to obtain originating status.

  • Value added calculations: a rule that requires a certain percentage of the total value of the final product to be added in the FTA territory.

  • Specific processing: a rule that requires that a specific processing be undertaken at a particular stage of the production process.

The three types of substantial transformation can be used in combination with one another. Additionally, different types of exceptions and allowances can be used within each of the three types.

In addition to the product specific rules, each agreement also includes general provisions related to the administration of rules of origin and claiming preferential tariffs. These rules cover additional relaxations such as cumulation or de-minimis as well as administrative provisions around the proof of preferential origin.

Non-preferential Origin

Non-preferential origin applies to goods traded between countries whether there is or not a trade agreement in place, and whilst it does not lead to a reduction in tariffs, it is used by importing countries to safeguard their local industry and also for monitoring purposes such as quotas, anti-dumping and countervailing duties. It is also used for trade statistics and for the purpose of labelling.

Non-preferential rules of origin are decided by each country and are based on two criteria.

a) Wholly obtained – similarly to preferential rules, wholly obtained products are goods obtained entirely in the territory of one country without the addition of any non-originating materials.

b) Last substantial transformation – in a case where more than one country was involved in the production of the goods, the country where the last substantial transformation took place determines the origin of the goods.

If you would like to obtain product specific guidance on rules of origin you may refer to Additionally, for more information from the EU perspective refer to the Access to Markets database.

Proof of Origin

Whether you are or not claiming preferential market access, the trader is responsible for keeping evidence about the origin of their goods.

Need help understanding Rules of Origin in more detail?

  • Join our next Rules of Origin: Preferential and Non-preferential training course that will be delivered on the 9th of February. We still have places available!

  • Need Certificates of Origin ( UK / Arab) or UK EUR1s as a way to prove origin? Check our Export docs services here

  • Need more guidance on Rules of Origin, check our brand new section on RoO in our Hub as we compiled a series of useful guidance links including the new EU-UK TCA.

  • Have more specific questions regarding your business model? Why not used our Bespoke Service?

Sources: GMCC, Institute for Government, UK Government guidance

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