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Shipping Documents


When commodities are shipped, there are many documents which accompany it. Some of these documents are required in order for the seller to be paid, others are required in order that the shipment can be imported into a foreign country, others provide assurances that the products meets the requirements set out in the contract and that has being properly handled and is being shipped aboard a seaworthy vessel. This is a list of the most commonly provided types of shipping documentation, along with explanations of their function.

Commercial Invoice
A commercial invoice is made out from the seller to the buyer. It details the specifications of the product being shipped and the total cost of the shipment. This invoice is normally required in order for the seller to receive payment under the terms of a letter of credit, and functions as a tax invoice for the buyer.

(Clean on Board) Bill of Lading
A bill of lading is a document which is issued by a carrier or transporter. The document confirms the specifications of the shipment received the port where it was loaded, and the destination port. It also outlines the terms of carriage. Bills of lading can be negotiable or non-negotiable. A negotiable bill of lading enables the holder of the bill of lading to change the destination port of the shipment. A non-negotiable bill of lading means that the shipment will be delivered to a specified port, and this port cannot be changed.

Packing List
A packing list is simply a document which outlines the quantity and type of product shipped. This document is normally very detailed. In order for the seller to obtain payment it is important that the packing list is identical to the terms of the contract and those set out in the letter of credit.

SGS Certificate of Weight Grade, Quality, and Condition
SGS is an international independent inspection company which will inspect the shipment before it leaves the port and verify that the goods are of the correct weight, grade, quality, and condition as stated in the bill of lading, packing list, and contract. If all is in order, they will issue an SGS certificate which states that the product met certain standards when it was shipped.

Certificate of Origin
A certificate of origin states where the product is from. This is essential when importing commodities from one country to another. The certificate of origin is often issued by the exporter, although it can sometimes be issued by a government agency.

Phytosanitary Certificate
A phytosanitary certificate states that the shipment meets the phytosanitary requirements which are in place in the country it is being exported to. Phytosanitary certificates are always required for plants and plant products, as these can represent a potential hazard to the ecosystem of the country to which they are being exported.

Loading / Stowage Supervision Certificate
A loading /stowage supervision certificate is offered by SGS, and covers the following elements of loading:

  • A thorough check of the overall appearance of the cargo and any packaging.

  • Verification that all product is being loaded against the contract details..

  • Ensuring that proper handling procedures are followed during loading.

  • Ensuring that the transport medium is clean and sanitary.

  • Ensuring that the shipment is adequately stowed and secured, and that it is protected from the elements.

The loading/stowage certificate provides the buyer with peace of mind that not only was the product good condition when it left the mill or warehouse, but that it was handled properly prior to shipping. It is also important from the seller’s perspective that a loading/stowage certificate be obtained as it is additional proof in case of mishap in transit that all due care was taken to ensure successful delivery to the buyer.

Certificate of Radiation
A certificate of radiation states that the shipment is within internationally acceptable radiation levels.

Crop Certificate
A crop certificate states the crop from which the product was produced. This allows the product to be traced right back to the exact point of its origin where it was grown.

Shipping Company Statement
A shipping company statement relates to the ship aboard which the product will travel. It normally states that the ship is of a certain age, and that it is well maintained. This document is designed to provide assurance that the vessel is sea worthy.

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