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Product Certification & Suppliers in China: A Cautionary Tale

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A few months ago I got a phone call from a business owner in Northern Europe. His company had purchased a small volume of jet skis from a Chinese supplier. Upon arrival in the port of destination the cargo was inspected by the customs and they requested the buyer to show proper certification. This should not be much of a problem, if it wasn’t for the fact that this guy had no clue what he was doing.

The importer didn’t even consider certification an issue until he was notified by the customs, and they refused to release the products until the certification papers were presented. The next logic step in this story would be that the supplier stepped in, FedExed some paperwork and saved the day. It was a dead end though, because the supplier was equally clueless. This was in fact the first time they had exported to Europe.

A few minutes into the phone call I realized that the situation was a mess. The only good recommendation I had for the guy was that he should call the customs and tell them to destroy the cargo. That’s a hard thing to say when you know that he’s going to lose approximately 50,000 dollars! That’s where our call ended, and I haven’t heard from him since.

This was not the first time and certainly not the last time an importer made the assumption that “the supplier should know which certification and regulations apply in my country.” About a year ago I received another phone call from a desperate small business owner who had his entire stock of toys, imported from China, seized by the local authorities. The reason? The imported items were not compliant with the latest EU regulations, even though his supplier provided him with some half decent photoshopped test reports. Neither did I ever hear from this guy again.

So, what’s the moral of this story? That you simply shouldn’t bother with importing anything from China? Well, that would be a stupid statement considering I make a living in this industry, but if you don’t want to ruin your next 15 years I suggest you follow this advice:

Never assume that your supplier is aware of product certification & regulations in your country

I would say that the majority of small businesses importing from China simply couldn’t care less about product certification. Most times that I’ve brought this point up the importer goes on the defensive and responds that “the supplier should know!” Indeed, I do agree with this statement, they certainly “should know” which certificate is required for a their product in a specific country or market.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Only a small minority of the suppliers in China are remotely aware of product certification and other regulations in major markets such as North America and the European Union. The FIRST question you should ask a new supplier is whether or not they can comply with the required certificate. Your SECOND questions shall be whether or not they have a document proving this!

Test reports showing previous compliance must also be verified. As said, fake certificates and test reports are common out there. That’s why we always verify all relevant product certificates and test reports when you order a Supplier Screening right here on Chinaimportal.com. Click here to read more about how we can help you avoid scams.

Ensure that the right product is certified

A product certificate (i.e. CE, RoHS or REACH) is specific for a certain product. Not ALL the products that are made by the supplier. It’s very common that a supplier refers to test reports for completely different products when they are asked for proof of some kind.

Verify the authenticity & validity of your suppliers existing test reports

There are plenty of faked test reports out there, some are obviously fake while other look very authentic. The only way to find out is to ask the issuing company (i.e. SGS and TUV) to verify the authenticity and validity of the product certificate. I’ve spotted more than a few fakes over the last few years. In some industries, especially consumer electronics, fake product certificates are more common than real ones!

There’s only one way to be sure!

Having your products tested before delivery could possibly be one of the best investments you’ll ever make. There are plenty of companies in Mainland China and Hong Kong that can test your products according to a certain standard (it’s your job to tell them which standard!). The price ranges from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on the certification standard and the product.

If you think it’s too much of a hassle and expensive I would say that you are better off importing products that don’t require certification compliance. This excludes, but is not limited to, toys, cosmetics, consumer and industrial electronics, medical equipment, chemicals and construction materials.

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    13 Responses to “Product Certification & Suppliers in China: A Cautionary Tale”

    1. S Petty June 22, 2015 at 3:03 am #

      I am looking to import a food container (baby pouches) to the United States. I can’t imagine there isn’t some regulation we have to get tested for. I want to know how to find out what we need to be tested for so we can tell our inspection.

      Thank you

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