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By Sarah Myers and Holly South

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Question: Should my chamber provide certificates of origin to members?

Answer:

Certificates of origin are used to prove an export’s country of origin to determine whether a product can be legally imported, and if so, what tariffs will be assessed on the shipment.

Post-WWI trade agreements anointed chambers of commerce as the issuing agencies for certificates of origin. Why chambers? For one, they were generally independent of the government, and two, could be found just about everywhere. What group could be better positioned to verify a product’s origins?

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has eliminated the need for a chamber stamp for shipments between partners U.S., Canada and Mexico. But for most other overseas shipments, the question is: Should your chamber get involved?

Is it worth it?

Consider the primary reason you’d offer certificates of origin: purely as a service to your members, or as a source of revenue?

While in theory all chambers should be willing to help their members, it can be difficult for chambers to successfully manage certificates of origin. Do you have the staff to manage this workload?

Electronic processing is more efficient and lessens the workload considerably – but involves an additional expense to consider. (ACCE works with a company called eCertify, which helps chambers process electronic certificates of origin.) Make certain your volume merits this step; the minimum to be profitable is about 150-200 certificates per year. If you don’t expect to do more, ACCE recommends you refer your exporters to another chamber that provides them electronically.

Even if you process 200 per year, you won’t get rich – the real money comes when you handle 500 or more electronic certificates per year, and not many chambers see this volume.

Afraid you’ll lose a major member if you don’t provide this service? Explain that it’s not feasible for you to provide the kind of service the company wants, and that the company would be better off having their certificates of origin processed more cheaply and efficiently from a high-volume chamber (and provide a referral). Most members will appreciate this candor; presumably they invest in the chamber for more than simply certificates of origin.

Don’t be tempted to provide these for free as a favor to members. It’s difficult to develop high standards if no one is compensating you, and you don’t want second-rate service to affect how people think of the chamber. If you want to do the work, do it well, and get paid for it – or send it to another chamber.

Certificates of Origin in
5 easy steps

If you decide you want to be in the business, it’s easy to get started. (And if you already are, it’s worth reviewing the following.)

1.
Create a chamber stamp! At minimum include your chamber name and location. If you say it’s official, it’s official.
 
2.
Verify to the best of your knowledge that the exporter is based in the country. Chances are you’re familiar with the company because it’s a chamber member or in the area. If not, confirm by phone or internet search.
 
3.
Keep on file three employee signatures from each exporter to compare with those on their export documents. This prevents an unauthorized employee from sending who-knows-what to a foreign country, or someone from outside the company from sneaking a fake document past you.
 
4.
Make sure the commercial invoice and the certificate of origin match. If the invoice says there are two shipping containers’ worth of goods and the certificate says there are three shipping containers, something’s wrong – and you shouldn’t stamp it.
 
5.
Don’t lend your chamber stamp to anyone. But why not provide your stamp as a convenience to a member? Because the chamber’s role is to provide oversight – which doesn’t happen when the exporter is stamping its own documents. And just like handing out blank checks, this practice can create a host of problems for a chamber. Our advice: Don’t risk it.
 

Job Descriptions Made Easy

When it comes to writing a job description, don’t waste time starting from scratch. Just follow these steps:

1.
Identify the most important word in the position – is it marketing? Membership? Development?
 
2.
Use that keyword to search the Samples Library for position descriptions. (www.acce.org/samples)
 
3.
To focus your search, add a chamber revenue filter and see only those results from chambers of a similar size to yours.
 
4.
Skim the results and save your favorites.
 
5.
To identify salary ranges for this position, head to Dynamic Chamber Benchmarking (DCB). CEOs and any staffer with CEO permission can access the Salary Survey, which contains data for all chamber staff. You can filter these data sets by membership size, population, staff size and more.
 
6.
Customize your favorite job descriptions with your chamber details, along with the salary information you found in DCB (and send your new job description to HERO so we can add to the Samples Library).
 

Questions? Contact HERO@acce.org.

Dig deeper with additional resources at www.acce.org/HERO

Bottom line

For most U.S. chambers of commerce, certificates of origin are a favor to your members, not a significant revenue source. Unless you plan on processing more than about 200 certificates per year, you should strongly consider passing your members’ certificate of origin requests on to other chambers that specialize in this process.

The HERO team is looking for examples of legislative position statements, social media plans, annual reports, and more. Share examples by sending your work to HERO@acce.org

Sarah Myers and Holly South are ACCE’s directors of information and research. They connect members with information resources to solve problems and explore opportunities. Ask your question at: www.ACCE.org/ask

 

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