Labeling is an important aspect to international export and one that is often overlooked or taken for granted.
When distributing your produce into foreign markets, particularly China, the correct labeling and packaging are often crucial factors that can affect the success of your business.
For Chinese customs, incorrect labeling, no matter how minor the error, could result in packages being denied access.
Yeah, we know it’s a nuisance, but by following this guide on how to label (and how not to label) your packages for Chinese export, you’ll easily bypass any potential issues in the transportation and distribution process.
First, let’s look at the mandatory items that need to be included in your labelling:
This is where you, the supplier, are exporting from. It’s advisable that you also include the name of the processing facility and particular registration/reference number (CFIA No. if in Canada). The outline for this registration is supplied in Chapter 1 of the Export Guide.
Product Identification is where you describe your product. Both the common and scientific names are necessary (e.g. Maine Lobster/Homarus americanus). This section of the label should also include both the gross and net weights (Kg & Lbs.) of produce as well as the package number, batch number, size of shipment and the production date.
This detail involves the initial physical site of entry to a new country, not necessarily the specific final destination or recipient. For example; Port of Entry could be ‘Shanghai’, as opposed to the details of the shipment’s end recipient e.g. ‘Golden Seafood Restaurant’.
When labelling the ‘Shipper’s’ details (your business) it’s a good idea to also include the packer and distributor if they differ. While this may seem irrelevant, Chinese customs (especially when it comes to seafood) need to know every detail about shipments and won’t hesitate stopping a shipment if they’re missing even the tiniest detail. It’s always best to provide more information than less.
Different from the Port of Entry, the Final Destination is the specific end of the supply chain. This is commonly the ‘buyer’ of your produce; an example could be the name of the recipient and his/her business and contact details e.g. a restaurant, ‘Golden Seafood Restaurant’.
Differing from Product Identification labelling, the Order Number’s purpose is to identify the package as physical reference for a specific commercial transaction between buyer and seller. This number will be consistent with your commercial recordings of transactions between your business and the buyer.
This information should be easily interpretable by anyone and give simple instructions on how the particular seafood/contents should be handled/stored (e.g. temperatures), as well as information on its perishability, freshness and quality.
Now that you know the absolute ‘musts’ to include in your labeling, let’s have a look at the best practices and things to avoid doing.
As mentioned previously, the most important thing when labeling for Chinese export is the language.
All labels need to be in both English AND Chinese.
If you’re in New Zealand you’re required to apply for label verification through the China Inspection and Quarantine (CIQ) offices and include your Certificate of Origin (as explained in Chapter 1) - a process that can take up to 2 weeks.
But, exporters in USA, Canada and Australia are able to source their own translators for labeling. Label translations into Chinese should only be done by a reliable service, as even the slightest errors can result in packages being disallowed passage through customs.
The labeling on packages needs to be clear, specific and written on at least 3 external sides of each box/carton (preferably the sides and top), leaving no room for misinterpretation.
In the case of live and fresh seafood, this is especially important as cargo requiring varying handling and storage methods can be compromised by poor care. For example, notes such as “Perishable” and “This Side Up” should be clearly visible.
Another neat idea to get around any language barriers is to use symbols or signs which are globally standard for seafood trade.
In recent years, The Government of the People’s Republic of China has put a ban on the use of adhesive labels on packages in the interest of environmental concern.
Despite some companies still using adhesive labels, the safest bet as a new-comer to the global export game, is to use waterproof ink directly onto your shipping containers. It’s effective and you’ll avoid giving Chinese customs any reason to interfere with your premium produce.
To sum all of this up, labeling is important, and in many cases can decide the ultimate fate of the shipments you send overseas.
Making sure that you include detailed information and instruction as clearly as possible, will ensure that your products are safe in transport and arrive at their destination the way you intend and your buyers expect.