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China Product Certifications. The Basics From People Who Know.

Trade Advice

by Anthony Goh and Matthew Sullivan

Like most countries, China requires that certain products receive certifications from a government agency before they can be sold in their country. We have found that dealing with Chinese product certifications can be a major challenge for foreign companies. To help companies better understand Chinese products certifications we offer an overview of what they are, why and when they are needed, and how to apply for them.

What are product certifications?

Chinese law mandates that before certain products can be sold in China they must be certified for their safety by a government agency. To receive Chinese product certification, your company must apply for approval from the national Chinese government agency responsible for regulating your industry. After successfully completing the application process with the agency you will be able to legally sell your product in China.

When are product certifications needed?

As a rule of thumb, if your product requires certification from a government agency before it can be sold in your own country it will likely need certification from an equivalent Chinese agency. In addition, certifications granted in other countries are generally not accepted in China, so even if your products are certified in the US or in Europe they will usually have to be certified according to the regulatory process in China before they can be sold there. For example, if you manufacture products which come into contact with potable water you will need the requisite certifications from the Chinese Ministry of Health before you can sell those products in China, even if you have already secured certification of those products for sale by US government agencies and trade organizations.

To be certain whether your product needs to be certified in China you will need to conduct basic research. Information about product certifications is not always easily and openly accessible on the websites of Chinese regulatory agencies and if you cannot find the answers there, your best recourse at that point will be to retain a company experienced in dealing with Chinese governmental regulatory bodies.

Why are product certifications needed?

The Chinese government requires product certifications to ensure products sold in there are not harmful. In recent years, the Chinese government has become stricter about enforcing standards after several scandals regarding tainted products.

Without the required product certifications your company will not be able to legally sell your products in China. If your company or a sales agent is found to be selling a non-certified product, they can face legal consequences. Additionally, if your end-users are government agencies or state-owned enterprises (SOEs), it will be nearly impossible for you to sell your products to them without the proper certification. These organizations will not purchase such products because they will face serious legal consequences for using illegal, non-certified products. Once you decide to sell product in the Chinese market you should determine if any certifications are needed and then apply for them immediately so you will be able to sell legally in China.

How do you apply for certification?

The application process for China product certification varies depending on the product needing certification and on the Chinese government agency that can certify your product. Generally, you will need to provide product samples and technical information for testing and review. As part of this process, you will likely need to authorize a company registered in China (this can be your company’s own China office or an unrelated company, to apply for this certification on your behalf. The entire approval process can take anywhere from months to years.

What are the potential challenges during the certification process?

Since Chinese product certification standards are often based on or very similar to US or EU standards, if your product already has been certified in the US or Europe it should be able to meet Chinese standards.

The greatest challenge you will likely face in completing these applications will not be meeting china's product standards, but rather dealing with the bureaucratic nature of the application process. It will be important that whatever documents you are required to submit for the application match exactly with the requirements of the Chinese regulatory agency. We have seen delays caused by documents signed by the wrong person and we have also seen delays caused by unannounced changes in the materials the Chinese regulatory agencies required.

In seeking product certification, it is important that either you or the company you employ to assist you develop a good working relationship with the government agency responsible for your product’s certification. It is also important to anticipate that not every step of the application will go as planned and that there may be sudden changes in application requirements. If the estimated timeline to complete an application is six months, do not be surprised if it actually takes closer to a year. When planning your China market entry strategy, you should therefore be sure to account for delays that might occur.

This article first appeared on China Law Blog.