Due Diligence
April 2018

7 China Supplier Documents You Should Always Request

Read this article to learn about the 7 key China supplier documents which you should request from your supplier to help protect your business.

Requesting, checking and verifying Chinese certificates can be a great way to build trust with your supplier, and if they are serious about doing business then they should be willing to provide them to you.

Chinese companies often display dozens of certificates in their showroom, or on their website, but many are of little relevance. In this article we highlight seven of the most important China supplier documents you should focus on.

Why Request China Supplier Documents?

Requiring your Chinese supplier to provide some key registration documents, certifications and reports is a simple but effective form of due diligence.

Genuine Chinese businesses who are keen to work with you will be happy to provide these China supplier documents. Verifying that they are authentic will give you confidence that you are dealing with a trustworthy company.

On the other hand, if a Chinese supplier is unwilling to provide you with these simple documents, or worse still, provides you with fake documentation, it is a clear sign that you should take your business elsewhere.

Always be aware of the potential for forgery when dealing with any Chinese certificates and documents. For example, fake Chinese business licenses are fairly common, ranging from sloppy photoshop jobs to ‘adjustments’ that are a bit harder to spot.

Top 7 China Supplier Documents You Should Request

Many of these are China supplier documents that you should always request a copy of, and others will be essential in different situations. In all cases it is important to verify that certificates are genuine.

1. Business License

  • Name in Chinese: 营业执照
  • Purpose: to prove that the company is legally registered in Mainland China

All companies in Mainland China must be registered and have this business license through which they are assigned an 18-digit business license number.

Being China's principle company certificate, it is very widely requested, so any resistance from the Chinese supplier to providing a copy can be a useful early warning sign.

Once you receive the certificate make sure you review it carefully. In addition to finding many fakes, we have also encountered many cases where business licenses from Hong Kong or offshore jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands or Cayman Islands have been provided.

Further reading: China Business License - An Introduction

2. Bank Account Certificate

  • Name in Chinese: 开户许可证
  • Purpose: to get details of the company's official Mainland China bank account

Only making payments to the account displayed on a Mainland Chinese company’s licensed bank account certificate is a good way to avoid some of the more blatant kinds of scams and fraud out there.

This certificate proves that they are the genuine holder of the business bank account shown on the certificate, and you can be confident that payments to this account are actually going to that company.

Doing this ensures that payments aren't going to a personal account or an offshore account from which the money might “disappear”. There are also many more protections and restrictions on licensed business bank accounts, so you’re safer in that respect, too.

Again, though, there are caveats. Most companies in China operate several bank accounts, for example to handle different currencies or different aspects of business.

In these cases, it is likely that only one account will actually have a license associated with it. There is not necessarily anything untoward about this situation, what’s more important is that you always pay to onshore business accounts and not to personal accounts.

Further reading: China Bank Account Certificate - An Introduction

3. Foreign Trade Registration Certificate

  • Name in Chinese: 对外贸易经营者备案登记表
  • Purpose: to ensure company is registered for foreign trade and to confirm their official English name

The China foreign trade registration certificate is required for companies which are directly engaged in importing and exporting, so it's not required for all companies in China.

If your Chinese supplier doesn't possess this certificate they will likely be using a trading company to send your products. Whilst not necessarily a problem, this is something to be aware of.

As part of the registration process, the company is required to specify their English name for the purposes of foreign trade when they register with the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM).

In most cases this English name should correspond with the name on the bank account you are being asked to make payment to.

Further reading: China Foreign Trade Registration Certificate - An Introduction

4. ISO 9001 Certificate

  • Name in Chinese: ISO9001质量管理体系证书 (however, English language certificates are usually provided)
  • Purpose: to ensure the organization has a certified quality management system, the scope of which covers the product you are buying

Requesting a copy of a Chinese supplier’s ISO 9001 certificate is a useful step to take before placing any orders with them. An ISO 9001 certificate demonstrates that a Chinese company has implemented an adequate system for:

  • Quality management
  • Management responsibility
  • Resource management
  • Product realisation
  • Measurement, analysis and improvement
  • plus much more...

(Or at least that it has convinced an auditor that it has an adequate system for these areas).

An ISO 9001 certificate is issued for a specific scope and this scope identifies the products and services the certification covers. This is very useful for determining if the supplier genuinely manufacturers the product you require.

It also includes the name of the company in English which can be compared to the name given on the foreign trade registration certificate.

As always, there is the potential for deception, so viewing the certificate is not enough. You need to identify the ISO 9001 registrar that granted the certificate (this will be given on the document), and independently confirm with that registrar that the company is genuinely certified.

It’s also important to confirm which sites a supplier actually holds ISO 9001 certification for; they may hold certification for some factories, but not for others. Further, it’s wise to confirm that the registrar that issued the certification is itself accredited.

Further reading: China ISO 9001 Certificate - An Introduction

5. Customs Registration Certificate

  • Name in Chinese: 进出口货物收发货人报关注册登记证书
  • Purpose: to determine whether the company is registered to make customs declarations with China customs

Although often confused with the foreign trade registration certificate, the customs registration certificate actually serves quite a different purpose.

This certificate is provided to Chinese suppliers who are registered with China Customs to make customs declarations.

Most major manufacturing companies will possess this certificate, but many smaller businesses use brokers to assist with the process. 

It is less common for companies to possess this certificate than the foreign trade registration, but still useful to request it in order to better understand their capabilities.

Further reading: China Customs Registration Certificate - An Introduction

6. Test Reports

  • Name in Chinese: 测试报告 (however Chinese test reports are commonly provided in English)
  • Purpose: to prove that the product being purchased meets the claimed standards and requirements

Depending on what product you are ordering, you will likely require a product test report from your Chinese supplier, ideally at several points of the production process, to confirm that the goods are being produced to the standard you require.

What testing specifications you require, when the tests are carried out and by whom are all things that need to be determined. Be wary of suppliers who attempt to show product test certifications they hold for other products that are not the one you’re interested in.

Further, there is another product testing issue that some importers overlook, and overlooking it can be an expensive mistake to make. If you’re importing products manufactured in China into your own country, there’s a good chance you will need certification showing that the products meet relevant standards in your country.

Many categories of products require this kind of certification, electronics and toys being common examples. Product tests have to be carried out on the goods before they are shipped, and certification will be required by your country’s customs officials. Lacking the specific product testing certification that is required could mean that you can never get hold of your products despite them having arrived in your country, and the only responsible party would be you.

Because of this, it’s inadvisable to rely on your supplier in China to either:

  • Acquire the required certifications required for importing the specific products into your country, or
  • Even be aware of which product testing certifications are required.

This is something that you should confirm yourself, by researching the necessary product testing certifications, and having a third party certify the product if possible.

As always, be wary of trickery: ensure the certifications are carried out by an accredited third party, and independently confirm the certification and accreditation with the next organisation up the chain.

7. Proforma Invoice

  • Name in Chinese: 形式发票 (however this document is nearly always provided in English)
  • Purpose: to ensure payment will be made to the correct company & bank account, and that all details provided are consistent

This is the document your Chinese supplier will be most willing and excited to give you! It is also the only one which is created by the supplier themselves, usually in Microsoft Excel or Word. You can learn more about how these documents are prepared here.

Check that the name on the invoice is consistent with:

  • the name of the company you thought you were dealing with
  • the name of the account you are being asked to make payment to (ideally the account number will be the same as on the bank account certificate)
  • the English name on the foreign trade registration certificate, ISO 9001 certificate and test reports as applicable

Some Chinese suppliers may request to receive payments through a different company, be very wary of this.

Also carefully review the contents of the proforma invoice to make sure that the products are described accurately and the payment terms are as promised. Don't be afraid to request changes - it is much easier to do so before payment has been made, than afterwards!

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Further reading