Hong Kong’s development stemmed from its historical role as an entrepot for trade and shipping between the East and West. The Chamber started issuing Certificates of Origin (CO) in 1920 to help merchants enjoy preferential duties of the “Imperial Customs Tariff as being the growth or produce or manufacture of the British Empire.”
The colonial government designated HKGCC as the issuing authority for COs shortly after the International Convention for the Simplification of Customs Formalities of 1923. Since then, our CO operation has been a core service of the Chamber.
Taking the lead
The demand for COs began to rise in the 1930s due to trade restrictions imposed by various governments. It continued to grow in the 1940s as a result of wartime restrictions, as countries at war converted their domestic industries to manufacture munitions.
Hong Kong’s post-war industrialization period saw growth of the textile, electronics and plastics sectors explode in the 1950s, and along with it the number of COs issued skyrocketed – from 14,000 in 1951 to 48,000 in 1960. To cope with soaring demand, the Chamber opened its first Mong Kok branch on Nathan Road on 10 September 1962.
In 1967, the Government added another four other CO issuing organizations as Government Approved Certification Organizations (GACOs) to bring the total of GACOs to five, which continues to this day. The Chamber’s policy of maintaining a high rate of consignment checking resulted in 21,000 inspections, or 14.5% of all consignments shipped under the Chamber’s CO in 1968, which increased confidence in goods shipped under a Chamber CO.
The Chamber introduced computerization in 1983, and opened additional branches across the territory to cope with annual double-digit growth in demand for COs. Today we operate the most comprehensive online CO service for goods of Hong Kong, Mainland China or foreign origin, as well as the largest number of branches, with six locations across the city.
The relocation of many factories to Mainland China starting in 1979 did not impact demand for COs, which continued to enjoy double-digit growth from 147,000 in 1979 to a peak in 1992. Since then, the growing global trend for fewer trade documents has led to a gradual decline in COs.
However, over the years the Certification Division has continually diversified its services. In 1974 it became the sole guaranteeing and issuing body of the ATA Carnets, which today allow the temporary and duty-free importation of goods to 78 countries or districts. This was extended to vehicles crossing the border under the Self-drive to Guangdong Province scheme in 2012.
The Chamber also started providing paper-to-electronic trade declaration services in 1998, introduced Consulate Endorsement Facilitation in 2007, and enhanced Certification of Documents services in the early 2010s. As digitization of the economy accelerated, the division launched its Certificate of Business Identity in 2019 to serve as certified “corporate resumes” of legitimate and honest Hong Kong companies.
Earlier this year, the Chamber’s CO office received the Gold award in the Government’s Web Accessibility Recognition Scheme for 2020-2021. We are delighted at this recognition of our ongoing efforts to ensure that all businesses in Hong Kong can efficiently access the documentation services they need.