Made in USA Requirements

The Law

Contrary to popular belief, there's no law that requires most products sold in the U.S. to have disclosures about their amount of U.S. content. The exceptions are for automobiles and textile, wool, and fur products. Manufacturers and marketers who choose to make claims about the amount of U.S. content in their products must comply with the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Made in USA policy. The FTC is charged with preventing deception and unfairness in the marketplace. The FTC Act gives the FTC the power to bring law enforcement actions against false or misleading claims that a product is of U.S. origin. Traditionally, the FTC has required that a product advertised as Made in USA be "all or virtually all" made in the U.S. The policy applies to all products advertised or sold in the U.S., except for those specifically subject to country-of-origin labeling by other laws. Other countries may have their own country-of-origin marking requirements.

Made in USA Examples

A Made in USA claim can be express or implied. An example of an express claim is "Our products are American-made." In identifying implied claims, the FTC focuses on the overall impression of the advertising, label, or promotional material. Depending on the context, U.S. symbols or geographic references (for example, U.S. flags, outlines of U.S. maps, or references to U.S. locations of headquarters or factories) may convey a claim of U.S. origin either by themselves, or in conjunction with other phrases or images. An example of an implied claim is a company that promotes its product in an ad that features a manager describing the "true American quality" of the work produced at the company's American factory. Although there is no express representation that the company's product is made in the U.S., the overall impression the ad is likely to convey to consumers is that the product is of U.S. origin.

Manufacturers and marketers should not indicate, either expressly or implicitly, that a whole product line is of U.S. origin ("Our products are made in USA") when only some products in the product line are made in the U.S. according to the "all or virtually all" standard. The FTC does not pre-approve advertising or labeling claims. A company doesn't need approval from the FTC before making a Made in USA claim. As with most other advertising claims, a manufacturer or marketer may make any claim as long as it is truthful and substantiated.

For a product to be called "Made in USA," the product must be "all or virtually all" made in the U.S. The term "United States," includes the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories and possessions. "All or virtually all" means that all significant parts and processing that go into the product must be of U.S. origin. That is, the product should contain no — or negligible — foreign content. When a manufacturer or marketer makes an unqualified claim that a product is Made in USA, it should have a "reasonable basis" to support the claim at the time it is made. This means a manufacturer or marketer needs competent and reliable evidence to back up the claim that its product is "all or virtually all" made in the U.S.

The product's final assembly or processing must take place in the U.S. The FTC then considers other factors, including how much of the product's total manufacturing costs can be assigned to U.S. parts and processing, and how far removed any foreign content is from the finished product. In some instances, only a small portion of the total manufacturing costs are attributable to foreign processing, but that processing represents a significant amount of the product's overall processing. The same could be true for some foreign parts. In these cases, the foreign content (processing or parts) is more than negligible, and, as a result, unqualified claims are inappropriate.

Example: A company produces propane barbecue grills at a plant in Nevada. The product's major components include the gas valve, burner and aluminum housing, each of which is made in the U.S. The grill's knobs and tubing are imported from Mexico. An unqualified Made in USA claim is not likely to be deceptive because the knobs and tubing make up a negligible portion of the product's total manufacturing costs and are insignificant parts of the final product.

Example: A table lamp is assembled in the U.S. from American-made brass, an American-made Tiffany-style lampshade, and an imported base. The base accounts for a small percent of the total cost of making the lamp. An unqualified Made in USA claim is deceptive for two reasons: The base is not far enough removed in the manufacturing process from the finished product to be of little consequence and it is a significant part of the final product.

Manufacturers and marketers should use the cost of goods sold or inventory costs of finished goods in their analysis. Such costs generally are limited to the total cost of all manufacturing materials, direct manufacturing labor, and manufacturing overhead. If given in good faith, manufacturers and marketers can rely on information from suppliers about the domestic content in the parts, components, and other elements they produce. Rather than assume that the input is 100 percent U.S.-made, however, manufacturers and marketers would be wise to ask the supplier for specific information about the percentage of U.S. content before they make a U.S. origin claim.

Example: A company manufactures food processors in its U.S. plant, making most of the parts, including the housing and blade, from U.S. materials. The motor, which constitutes 50 percent of the food processor's total manufacturing costs, is bought from a U.S. supplier. The food processor manufacturer knows that the motor is assembled in a U.S. factory. Even though most of the parts of the food processor are of U.S. origin, the final assembly is in the U.S., and the motor is assembled in the U.S., the food processor is not considered "all or virtually all" American-made if the motor itself is made of imported parts that constitute a significant percentage of the appliance's total manufacturing cost. Before claiming the product is Made in USA, this manufacturer should look to its motor supplier for more specific information about the motor's origin.

Example: On its purchase order, a company states: "Our company requires that suppliers certify the percentage of U.S. content in products supplied to us. If you are unable or unwilling to make such certification, we will not purchase from you." Appearing under this statement is the sentence, "We certify that our ___ have at least ___% U.S. content," with space for the supplier to fill in the name of the product and its percentage of U.S. content. The company generally could rely on a certification like this to determine the appropriate country-of-origin designation for its product. How far back in the manufacturing process should manufacturers and marketers look?

To determine the percentage of U.S. content, manufacturers and marketers should look back far enough in the manufacturing process to be reasonably sure that any significant foreign content has been included in their assessment of foreign costs. Foreign content incorporated early in the manufacturing process often will be less significant to consumers than content that is a direct part of the finished product or the parts or components produced by the immediate supplier.

Example: The steel used to make a single component of a complex product, like the steel used in a computer's hard drive, is an early input into the computer's manufacture, and is likely to constitute a very small portion of the final product's total cost. On the other hand, the steel in a product like a pipe or a wrench is a direct and significant input. Whether the steel in a pipe or wrench is imported would be a significant factor in evaluating whether the finished product is "all or virtually all" made in the U.S.

Are raw materials included in the evaluation of whether a product is "all or virtually all" made in the U.S.? The answer is that it depends on how much of the product's cost the raw materials make up and how far removed from the finished product they are.

Example: If the gold in a gold ring is imported, an unqualified Made in USA claim for the ring is deceptive. That's because of the significant value the gold is likely to represent relative to the finished product, and because the gold — an integral component — is only one step back from the finished article. By contrast, consider the plastic in the plastic case of a clock radio otherwise made in the U.S. of U.S.-made components. If the plastic case was made from imported petroleum, a Made in USA claim is likely to be appropriate because the petroleum is far enough removed from the finished product, and is an insignificant part of it as well.

Qualified Made in USA Claims

A qualified Made in USA claim describes the extent, amount or type of a product's domestic content or processing; it indicates that the product isn't entirely of domestic origin.

Example: "60% U.S. content." "Made in USA of U.S. and imported parts." "Couch assembled in USA from Italian Leather and Mexican Frame." A qualified Made in USA claim is appropriate for products that include U.S. content or processing but don't meet the criteria for making an unqualified Made in USA claim. Because even qualified claims may imply more domestic content than exists, manufacturers or marketers must exercise care when making these claims. That is, avoid qualified claims unless the product has a significant amount of U.S. content or U.S. processing. A qualified Made in USA claim, like an unqualified claim, must be truthful and substantiated.

Example: An exercise treadmill is assembled in the U.S. The assembly represents significant work and constitutes a "substantial transformation" (a term used by the U.S. Customs Service). All of the treadmill's major parts, including the motor, frame, and electronic display, are imported. A few of its incidental parts, such as the handle bar covers, the plastic on/off power key, and the treadmill mat, are manufactured in the U.S. Together, these parts account for approximately three percent of the total cost of all the parts. Because the value of the U.S.-made parts is negligible compared to the value of all the parts, a claim on the treadmill that it is "Made in USA of U.S. and Imported Parts" is deceptive. A claim like "Made in U.S. from Imported Parts" or "Assembled in U.S.A." would not be deceptive.

Claims that a particular manufacturing or other process was performed in the U.S. or that a particular part was manufactured in the U.S. must be truthful, substantiated, and clearly refer to the specific process or part, not to the general manufacture of the product, to avoid implying more U.S. content than exists.

Manufacturers and marketers should be cautious about using general terms, such as "produced," "created" or "manufactured" in the U.S. Words like these are unlikely to convey a message limited to a particular process. Additional qualification probably is necessary to describe a product that is not "all or virtually all" made in the U.S.

In addition, if a product is of foreign origin (that is, it has been substantially transformed abroad), manufacturers and marketers also should make sure they satisfy Customs' markings statute and regulations that require such products to be marked with a foreign country of origin. Further, Customs requires the foreign country of origin to be preceded by "Made in," "Product of," or words of similar meaning when any city or location that is not the country of origin appears on the product.

Example: A company designs a product in New York City and sends the blueprint to a factory in Finland for manufacturing. It labels the product "Designed in USA — Made in Finland." Such a specific processing claim would not lead a reasonable consumer to believe that the whole product was made in the U.S. The Customs Service requires the product to be marked "Made in," or "Product of" Finland since the product is of Finnish origin and the claim refers to the U.S. Examples of other specific processing claims are: "Bound in U.S. — Printed in Turkey." "Hand carved in U.S. — Wood from Philippines." "Software written in U.S. — Disk made in India." "Painted and fired in USA. Blanks made in (foreign country of origin)."

Example: A company advertises its product, which was invented in Seattle and manufactured in Bangladesh, as "Created in USA." This claim is deceptive because consumers are likely to interpret the term "Created" as Made in USA — an unqualified U.S. origin claim.

Example: A computer imported from Korea is packaged in the U.S. in an American-made corrugated paperboard box containing only domestic materials and domestically produced expanded rigid polystyrene plastic packing. Stating Made in USA on the package would deceive consumers about the origin of the product inside. But the company could legitimately make a qualified claim, such as "Computer Made in Korea — Packaging Made in USA."

Example: The Acme Camera Company assembles its cameras in the U.S. The camera lenses are manufactured in the U.S., but most of the remaining parts are imported. A magazine ad for the camera is headlined "Beware of Imported Imitations" and states "Other high-end camera makers use imported parts made with cheap foreign labor. But at Acme Camera, we want only the highest quality parts for our cameras and we believe in employing American workers. That's why we make all of our lenses right here in the U.S." This ad is likely to convey that more than a specific product part (the lens) is of U.S. origin. The marketer should be prepared to substantiate the broader U.S. origin claim conveyed to consumers viewing the ad.

Comparative claims should be truthful and substantiated, and presented in a way that makes the basis for comparison clear (for example, whether the comparison is to another leading brand or to a previous version of the same product). They should truthfully describe the U.S. content of the product and be based on a meaningful difference in U.S. content between the compared products.

Example: An ad for cellular phones states "We use more U.S. content than any other cellular phone manufacturer." The manufacturer assembles the phones in the U.S. from American and imported components and can substantiate that the difference between the U.S. content of its phones and that of the other manufacturers' phones is significant. This comparative claim is not deceptive.

Example: A product is advertised as having "twice as much U.S. content as before." The U.S. content in the product has been increased from 2 percent in the previous version to 4 percent in the current version. This comparative claim is deceptive because the difference between the U.S. content in the current and previous version of the product are insignificant.

A product that includes foreign components may be called "Assembled in USA" without qualification when its principal assembly takes place in the U.S. and the assembly is substantial. For the "assembly" claim to be valid, the product's last "substantial transformation" also should have occurred in the U.S. That's why a "screwdriver" assembly in the U.S. of foreign components into a final product at the end of the manufacturing process doesn't usually qualify for the "Assembled in USA" claim.

Example: A lawn mower, composed of all domestic parts except for the cable sheathing, flywheel, wheel rims and air filter (15 to 20 percent foreign content) is assembled in the U.S. An "Assembled in USA" claim is appropriate.

Example: All the major components of a computer, including the motherboard and hard drive, are imported. The computer's components then are put together in a simple "screwdriver" operation in the U.S., are not substantially transformed under the Customs Standard, and must be marked with a foreign country of origin. An "Assembled in U.S." claim without further qualification is deceptive.

Source: Federal Trade Commission