Product Certification & Suppliers in China: A Cautionary Tale

product certification

Click Here to Get the
Starter Package: All Categories

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 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.

  • Tags:

    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


    1. Buying from Chinese wholesalers - The Do's and Don't's - November 8, 2013

      […] Products that are imported to the US and EU requires certification compliance. The problem faced by those who wish to purchase from Chinese wholesalers is that no Chinese wholesalers sell certified products. I would even be willing to bet that there’s not even a single Chinese wholesaler that offers ready-made products that are CE, RoHS, REACH or FCC complaint. […]

    2. Canton Fair 2014 in Guangzhou: Everything you need to know - December 5, 2013

      […] are lacking both knowledge and capacity to manufacture products that are in compliance with US and EU certification standards. This is why you should begin by asking a supplier if they are able to comply with a certain […]

    3. Importing LED screens from China - The Ultimate Guide - December 26, 2013

      […] Rule of law and consumer safety can be a pain in the ass sometimes and this is one of those times. Certification would be a piece of cake if it weren’t for the fact that mentioning any of the various certification standards in the […]

    4. How to import Android Tablets & Smartphones from China - December 26, 2013

      […] matters if you are based in Europe or the United States. Certification requirements such as CE, RoHS and FCC are not mere guidelines but legislation put in place to protect businesses and consumers. Importing […]

    5. Interview with the China sourcing expert Anders Bäckström - January 29, 2014

      […] Do your due diligence carefully, there are several companies and government agencies in place today that can help you verify and validate business licenses and various certifications. […]

    6. Sea Freight & Shipping from China - The Ultimate Guide - February 26, 2014

      […] Certain products require additional documentation. In most countries this includes agricultural products, food and vehicles. There’s no global standard for this and it would take me the whole weekend to write about all the different licenses in Europe, USA and Australia. However, that doesn’t prevent more from writing about something really scary that happened a few months ago. […]

    7. Importing Brand Name Products from China. Shortcut or Dead End? - March 3, 2014

      […] manufactured by criminal syndicates, this should hardly come as a surprise. Noncompliance with product certification standards (i.e. CE, REACH and FCC) can be just as disastrous as getting caught with importing fake […]

    8. Importing Small Volumes from China – The Ultimate Guide - March 3, 2014

      […] Certain product are not viable for small volume importing. Among these products I tend to include electronics, toys, cosmetics and chemical products. While these products may still be possible to purchase in Small Volumes from sites like Aliexpress. However, those “off shelf” products are manufactured for the domestic Chinese market and are not in compliance with US and EU product certification requirements. […]

    9. China Factory Management: Interview with Kim Pen - March 3, 2014

      […] makes them impossible to use or to resell. Another big problem is products that do not comply with official standards such as CE. Naturally, a lot more can go wrong. The supplier can stop responding after they get the deposit. […]

    10. CE, RoHS and FCC Certification: Interview with Han Zuyderwijk - March 5, 2014

      […] Importers should realize this, because it leads perhaps to unwanted liability. Also, a lot of products, particularly from the Far East, do not comply. It is not my personal opinion, but is statistically established that a significant higher percentage of products coming from the Far East are stopped at the borders for reasons of non-compliance or because of incidents in the market. […]

    11. Import von Kleinmengen aus China – Die ultimative Anleitung - March 30, 2014

      […] Bestimmte Produkte eignen sich schlichtweg nicht für den Import von kleinen Mengen. Unter diesen Produkten verstehe ich Elektronikwaren, Spielzeuge, Kosmetikartikel und chemische Produkte. Womöglich besteht durchaus die Möglichkeit, solche Artikel in Kleinmengen von Seiten wie Aliexpress zu erwerben, aber bedenken Sie, dass diese Produkte „aus dem Regal“ für den chinesischen Markt produziert worden sind und dass Sie höchstwahrscheinlich nicht mit den Produktstandards der EU und der USA übereinstimmen. […]

    12. RoHS Compliance when Importing Electronics from China - July 22, 2014

      […] responsibility to ensure that all imported products are compliant with the required product certification standard. RoHS is certainly no exception to this […]

    Leave a Reply