Opinions, knowledge and resources from China Checkup's expert contributors
by Matt Slater
18 April 2018
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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:
(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
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
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:
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.
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:
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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Hi there, I'm Matt, the Founder & CEO of China Checkup. Originally from the UK, I am now based in Brisbane, Australia.
Frustrated by the scarcity of concise, high-quality and timely information about Chinese companies, I setup China Checkup whilst living in Shanghai in 2013.
My team are proud that China Checkup's company verification reports have now helped thousands of clients from all corners of the world to do business in China more safely.
by Matt Slater
26 October 2020
The China company operating period is usually represented by two dates, which are specified on a Chinese business license.
It is the span between the date of incorporation - the first of these dates - and the expiry date of the company's registration - the second.
In some cases, a China company operating period may be open-ended meaning no specific expiry date is specified. Learn more about this here.
by Matt Slater
18 May 2020
This article takes a look at the 6 different China city types and the various levels of autonomy and power each type holds.
China has over 700 official cities, from the metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong down to the smaller cities of Beihai, Shangrao and Qufu, but they are not all governed equally.
Read this guide if you want to understand the difference between China city types, including municipalities, prefecture-level cities, county-level cities and more.
by Matt Slater
30 January 2020
Launched by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, the decades long process of Chinese economic reform has transformed China beyond recognition.
This article highlights some of the most significant events during this period in the form of a year by year timeline.
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