Rules of origin

Determining where a product comes from is not easy when raw materials and parts criss-cross the globe to be used as inputs in scattered manufacturing plants. Rules of origin are therefore needed to attribute one country of origin to each product. They are the criteria used to define where a product was made and are important for implementing other trade policy measures, including trade preferences (preferential rules of origin), quotas, anti-dumping measures and countervailing duties (non-preferential rules of origin).

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PTA database

The preferential trade arrangements (PTAs) database (http://ptadb.wto.org/) is a tool that was established as an outcome of the decision establishing the Transparency Mechanism for PTAs. It includes Generalized System of Preferences schemes, under which developed countries grant preferential tariffs to imports from developing countries.

Committee on Trade and Development

The Committee on Trade and Development serves as the forum for the notification and review of regional trade agreements (RTAs) between developing countries. It also reviews non-reciprocal preferential schemes favouring developing countries authorized under the Enabling Clause, in particular the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).

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I. News 

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II. Introduction

“Rules of origin” are the criteria used to define where a product was made. Those rules define the economic nationality of the goods. Article 1 of the Rules of Origin Agreement defines rules of origin as those laws, regulations and administrative determinations of general application applied to determine the country of origin of goods except those related to the granting of tariff preferences.

A distinction should be made between non-preferential and preferential rules of origin.

Non-preferential rules of origin

Non-preferential rules of origin are those which apply in the absence of any trade preference — that is, when trade is conducted on a most-favoured nation basis. Not all countries apply specific legislation related to non-preferential rules of origin. However, some trade policy measures such as quotas, anti-dumping or “made in” labels may require a determination of origin and, therefore, the application of non-preferential rules.

In the Agreement on Rules of Origin, WTO members agreed to negotiate and adopt common or “harmonized” non-preferential rules of origin. After the completion of this “harmonization work programme”, all WTO members would apply identical rules of origin for all non-preferential purposes (rules of origin applied in regional and preferential trade agreements would not be harmonized).

These negotiations have not yet concluded, however, and not all WTO members apply origin requirements for non-preferential purposes. See Technical information on rules of origin. In the meantime, the disciplines of Article 2 of the Agreement on Rules of Origin apply. In addition, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the Agreement on Trade Facilitation contain some provisions related to origin requirements.

The following WTO members currently apply national rules of origin for non-preferential purposes:

Select a member from the dropdown list to see if they have submitted notifications about their non-preferential rules of origin.

Preferential rules of origin

Preferential rules or origin are those which apply in reciprocal trade preferences (i.e. regional trade agreements or customs unions) or in non-reciprocal trade preferences (i.e. preferences in favour of developing countries or least-developed countries).

The rules of origin which apply under reciprocal trade preferences or regional trade agreements must conform with the general disciplines of Annex II of the Agreement on Rules of Origin. In addition, the GATT and the Agreement on Trade Facilitation contain some provisions related to origin requirements.

Preferential rules of origin in the context of reciprocal trade preferences notified to the WTO Secretariat can be retrieved in the WTO RTA database: http://rtais.wto.org

More recently, WTO members have also adopted additional provisions which cover the rules of origin which apply in the context of non-reciprocal preferences for least developed countries (the 2013 Bali Ministerial Decision on Rules of Origin for LDCs and the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial Decision on Rules of Origin for LDCs).

The Bali Ministerial Decision establishes the first set of multilateral guidelines for rules of origin that WTO preference-granting members apply to their non-reciprocal preference schemes for LDCs. The guidelines are intended to make it easier for LDC exporters to qualify for preferences and therefore better utilize market access opportunities that are available to them.

The Nairobi Ministerial Decision elaborates on the 2013 Decision by providing more detailed directions on specific issues which would facilitate LDCs' export of goods to both developed and developing countries under unilateral preferential trade arrangements. See Nairobi Briefing Note.

Notifications received by the Secretariat can be retrieved through the WTO PTA database: http://ptadb.wto.org.

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III. WTO Agreement on Rules of Origin

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IV. Committee on Rules of Origin

General work of the Committee

The Committee on Rules of Origin applies the rules of the General Council (WT/L/161) with the specificities laid out in G/L/149. In addition, the Committee also applies the “Guidelines for Appointment of Officers to WTO Bodies” (WT/L/31).

Since the adoption of the Agreement on Rules of Origin, the work of the Committee has focused primarily on the harmonization of non-preferential rules of origin. More recently, WTO members have also initiated some work on preferential rules of origin and, in particular, on the rules of origin used under trade preferences for LDCs.

The current chair of the Committee on Rules of Origin is .

Committee work on utilisation of trade preferences by LDCs

Paragraph 4.3 of the 2015 (Nairobi) Ministerial Decision on preferential rules of origin for least developed countries (LDCs) stipulates that the WTO Secretariat may calculate the rates of utilization of preferential trade arrangements (PTAs) implemented by WTO members for LDCs. Preferential utilization rates could provide a useful tool for the examination of preferential rules of origin in light of the objectives and provisions of the Ministerial Decision.

At the end of 2016, members adopted modalities for the calculation of utilization rates as recommended in paragraph 3.2(a) of document G/RO/W/161. Utilization rates offer a useful analytical tool for the examination of trade preferences in general and of rules of origin in particular.

Very high rates of preference utilization signal that exporters are able to meet origin requirements and make effective use of preferential trade benefits. On the contrary, low levels of preference utilization may indicate that preferential origin requirements cannot be met and that they could be operating as a trade barrier. More details are given in the notes prepared by the Secretariat (G/RO/W/204, G/RO/W/187, G/RO/W/185, G/RO/W/179, G/RO/W/168).

The linkages between rules of origin and the utilization of preferences (with a focus on least developed countries) have been at the centre of the work of the WTO Committee on Rules of Origin for the past few years. 

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V. Official documents

Search Documents Online
Rules of origin documents use the code G/RO/* (where * takes additional values)
These links open a new window: allow a moment for the results to appear.

> help with downloading these documents

You can perform more sophisticated searches from the Documents Online search facility by defining multiple search criteria such as document symbol (i.e. code number), full text search or document date.

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VI. Technical assistance

  • An online course, “Made in … : Understanding Rules of Origin” allows participants to become familiar with the basic concepts of rules of origin and with WTO disciplines governing their use.
  • A new online course, “Underutilization of trade preferences: blame it on the rules of origin? — Micro course series” looks into the factors that influence the utilization rates of trade preferences.

Courses are available through ECampus, the WTO's e-learning hub.

VII. Other resources

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Looking for product-specific rules of origin?

The Origin Facilitator is a joint database of the WTO, ITC and WCO which allows firms to search rules of origin and certification obligations for free.

Notifications

The WTO Handbook on Notifications contains a detailed explanation about how to prepare notifications related to rules of origin.

Committee meetings

 

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