In the rush to produce and deliver an export sale, US exporters frequently overlook an importing country's labeling requirements. Overlooking such requirements is often not without repercussions, however, and has come back to haunt many an exporter by causing the exporter problems in entering or marketing their products in the importing country. The problems related to overlooking an importing country's labeling requirements take a variety of forms, including: delays in entry, monetary penalties on entry, confiscation on entry and removal from the market after entry. One very high profile case that recently alerted many exporters to the importance of paying attention to an importing country's labeling requirements was the case of Walmart in Mexico. According to various press reports, Walmart failed to observe Mexico's labeling requirements related to providing Spanish language labels for thousands of products exported to Mexico for sale in Walmart's Mexican stores. Although Walmart advised Mexican trade officials that its failure to provide the required Spanish language labels was an unfortunate misunderstanding, Mexican trade officials temporarily shut down Walmart's Mexico City store and did not allow it to re-open until Walmart officials had corrected the labeling deficiency. Given the disruptive nature of the problems that a US exporter can experience by virtue of overlooking an importing country's labeling requirements, it is important for US exporters to consider such requirements as part of the pre-export planning process.
This article will examine the labeling requirements of Canada and Mexico and highlight general labeling issues in these countries. US exporters should consider this article as a starting point in learning about Canadian and Mexican labeling requirements and determine on a more complete basis the labeling requirements that apply to their specific products in these countries. In addition, US exporters should regularly insure that the labeling requirements under which they are working remain in effect.
What are labeling requirements
Labeling requirements are typically separate and distinct from country of origin marking requirements and may be general in that they are applicable to all imported products or specific with regard to a particular product type. An importing country's labeling requirements typically deal with the information that has to expressed on a label, the language in which such information is expressed, how the label is attached to a product and when the label is attached to a product. The best source of information on country specific labeling requirements is the importer to whom the exporter is selling its products. If the importer is not certain, however, or if the US exporter has any doubts about the information that the importer provides, the US exporter should seek third party assistance or contact the relevant governmental agency in the importing country as indicated in the paragraphs below.
Canada's Labeling Requirements
Canada has both a generic labeling law and various product specific labeling laws. Product specific labeling laws supersede the generic labeling law and will function as the definitive labeling laws for specific products to the extent that such product specific labeling laws exist. Information on the existence of product specific labeling laws is available through the various regional offices of Canada Customs.
Canada's generic labeling law is the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act (CPLA). This law outlines Canada's basic labeling and packaging requirements for pre-packaged consumer goods. A pre-packaged consumer good is a product that is packaged in a container in such a manner that it is ordinarily sold to a consumer without being re-packaged.
According to CPLA the labels on all pre-packaged consumer goods sold in Canada must contain three pieces of information:
- a product identity declaration which describes either the product's generic name or its function. This declaration must made be in both English and French and it must appear on the principal display panel of the package. Any typeface style may be used, but it must be easily legible to the Canadian consumer.
- a net quantity declaration which expresses the product's metric units of volume, metric units of weight or numerical count. This declaration must be made in both English and French and it must appear on the principal display of the package in a type face that is easily legible to the Canadian consumer.
- the dealer's name and principal place of business which states the identity and principal place of business where the pre-packaged consumer product was manufactured or produced for resale. It may be made in either English or French and may appear anywhere on the outside surface of the package except the bottom.
Supplemental label information (directions for use, etc.) is not mandatory under the CPLA and does not have to be in bilingual format when it appears on a consumer product label, except in the Province of Quebec where each and every piece of product information appearing on a consumer product label must appear in bilingual format. The CPLA prohibits the appearance on consumer product labels of any information which is false or misleading.
Information on the CPLA is available through the various regional offices of Consumer & Corporate Affairs Canada.
Mexico's Labeling Requirements
Mexico's principal labeling law is the Certification and Labeling Decree of March 7, 1994. This law provides a list of products, by Mexican tariff number, which are subject to product specific labeling requirements. In so doing, the law makes it clear that products, which are not subject to product specific labeling requirements, must comply with Mexico's generic labeling requirements. These generic labeling requirements are established by the 1994 Decree and call for the following information to be presented in Spanish, on a product label prior to the product's importation into Mexico:
- the name of the product or merchandise;
- the name or business name and address of the importer;
- the importer's RFC # (Federal taxpayer registration number) and/or their industry association registration number;
- the name or business name of the exporter;
- the net contents as specified in NOM-030-SCFI-1993. This requires a listing of the number of pieces in a package;
- warnings or precautions on hazardous materials;
- use, handling and care instructions for the product as required; and
- the country of origin on goods destined for retail sale in the Mexican market.
Mexico's 1994 Labeling Decree does not provide any specifications as to size or location of a label, but it does require that labels be attached or stickered to the product. A subsequent clarification of the 1994 Decree provided that labels do not have to be physically attached at the time of importation into Mexico. Rather, importers may present to the Mexican Customs authorities the labels corresponding to the number of goods being imported and attach such labels to each package or product before it is offered for sale to Mexican consumers. The 1994 Decree also provides that labels must be legible and accessible to consumer at time of sale and exempts certain products from labeling requirements.
Mexico proposed new labeling regulations (NOM-050-SCFI-1994) in June, 1994. While the 90 day comment period on these regulations expired in September 1994, the proposed regulations had not yet been implemented at the time this article was written. It is not known when the proposed regulations will be implemented.
Mexico's proposed labeling regulations establish minimum labeling requirements for all products of Mexican or foreign manufacture that (a)are marketed in Mexico; (b)are not subject to any product specific labeling requirements; and (c) are not included among exceptions granted by competent authorities.
The proposed labeling regulations require labels to be written legibly and attached to the product or placed inside its container at the time the product is imported into Mexico, unless otherwise provided. In addition, the proposed regulations require labels to provide Mexican consumers the following information in Spanish:
- the generic name of the product, unless it is obvious;
- the name, firm name and address of the manufacturer;
- the name, or firm name and address of the importer;
- the country of origin;
- warnings about the main risks and precautionary measures for safe and reliable handling in the case of dangerous products;
- instructions directed to the final user when the use, handling and/or preservation of the product is not obvious; instructions may be placed in a separate "annex" provided that the label notes "see instructive annex", instructions may be added after the product is imported into Mexico and has cleared Mexican Customs, but before the product is marketed in Mexico;
- guarantees offered by the providers and written in the Spanish language;
- guarantees may be added after the product is imported into Mexico and has cleared Mexican Customs, but before the product is marketed in Mexico
Information on Mexico's 1994 Labeling Decree and the Proposed Labeling Regulations is available through SECOFI.