Importance of Pre-Shipment Inspection for Importing from China


IST_28936_02273.jpgNow almost every business company has understood that by wholesale sourcing from China they can increase their profitability and survive in the competitive market. The extra profit can then be reinvested for the overall improvement of the company for the future.

However, one thing that most businessmen often fail to understand that unless they incorporate a proper system of pre-shipment inspection on the products that they are planning to import, all their expectations cannot be met.

This is one of the most important parts in China quality control. These inspections must be carried out by a suitable qualified independent agency or by the quality control departments of the importing company before the products are dispatched.

What is a Pre-Shipment Inspection?

A pre-shipment inspection will be called as a step that will be taken up by trade operators that may include the buyers, suppliers, or any sourcing companies appointed by the importer.  They are supposed to inspect the products that has been manufactured before they are going to be shipped for export/import.

The basic purposes of this kind of inspection are to:

  • Ascertain the quantity and quality of the products

  • Check products if they have any defects

  • Ensure products will meet all the safety requirements of the destination market

  • Issue a final report for import and billing

This kind of inspection was introduced as an agreement to make improvement in international trade standards under the general agreement that was made on the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Several obligations were considered in the “Pre-Shipment Inspection Agreement,” where it was stated that pre-shipment investigations must be applied as per the following principles:

  • Non-discrimination

  • Transparency

  • Protection of confidential business information

  • Avoidance of delays

Accredited China inspection companies must perform pre-shipment inspections after production is in the stage of at least 80% of completion. This is the final opportunity to take any corrective action before the products are shipped, making it an effective tool for safeguarding the product against costly risks of import.

The pre-shipment inspection will typically cover the following:

  • Performance

  • Functionality

  • Overall appearance

  • Durability

  • Dimensions

After the successful pre-shipment inspection, the inspecting agency will issue an inspection report document and that will accompany the consignment to its destination.

Let us now discuss few issues that are faced when doing such inspection while importing goods from China. 


1. Interest conflicts of the inspection agency

As long as the inspection is done keeping in consideration of the interest of the company, then the inspection report can be trusted. However, if any individual has his own interest, then the inspection report is likely to be unreliable.

2. Unclear expectations

Often the inspecting agency may not be very clear what the quality parameters to be checked is and what are the maximum and minimum limits.

Particularly, if a third-party agency is involved in the inspection, then clear standards or a correct sample of product must be available so that the inspector can use that as a reference standard.

If a reference standard or a clear specification is missing, then the inspection report will be meaningless.

3. Failure to commit

If the people involved in the inspection is not fully committed to the interest of the company, then they may inspect against a certain faulty sample and clear the product.

4. Lack of responsibility

The real problem comes when the products received at destination are found defective. The manufacturer will not take the responsibility and will point fingers to inspecting agency. On the other hand, inspecting agency will also not be ready to take full responsibility of the goof up.

As a result, at the end of the day the importer will suffer the loss.

5. “Good enough” mind set

In a country like China, people may be a little complacent and they may accept any product as “good enough” which may not be acceptable to a consumer in the western countries.

Here a trusted sourcing agenct in China can play a very effective role to get a genuine pre-shipment inspection report.


Also, the following are a few tips to resolve this issue:

1. Look for companies that can offer continuous training. Credible inspection companies will have inspectors who are well trained. This will help to ensure that inspectors will be up to date on the latest standards.

2. Prefer those inspectors who are trustworthy and dedicated to your company’s interests. If you notice any sign of self-interest, then don’t involve them in inspection.

3. Try to appoint an inspection agency who are aware of the standard of your country/destination country and are committed to quality standards.

4. Hire a company who can offer a comprehensive inspection and can inspect different facets of your product

A few important steps to follow

1. Inspection visit

Most pre-shipment inspections will take place at the factory. If the inspectors think that the products contain any restricted chemicals, then off-site lab testing may be advised for those products.

An example is, products may contain toxic chemicals like lead and toxins derived from dyes, which are usually very tightly regulated in the US and Europe.

2. Quantity verification

Here the inspectors will count the shipping cartons for verifying the correct quantity. Besides, this will also ensure that the correct quantity of products and boxes are sent to the right destination that was agreed between a buyer, and the supplier, so that bank can initiate payment.

Also, it will be checked to verify whether the correct packing materials have been used to ensure safe transportation, and correct labels are applied.

3. Random selection

If you have hired any skilled pre-shipment inspection services which is internationally recognized, then they will use statistical sampling procedure.

According to this standard the acceptable number of flaws within a batch prior to rejection is determined with an AQL (Acceptance Quality Limit). The AQL may vary based on what type of product is under evaluation. However, the objective is to offer a balanced, unbiased view.

4. Cosmetic and workmanship check

In this check, the first thing an inspector is going to look at from the random selection will be the overall workmanship of all the finished products, so that they can identify any immediately visible defects.

Defects can typically be classified as:

  • Minor

  • Major

  • Critical

This classification will be based on certain predetermined acceptable tolerance levels, usually which are agreed upon between the supplier and manufacturer during product development.

5. Conformity verification

Here the quality control inspectors will check dimensions of the product, material and construction, colour, weight, marking, and labelling.

In case, it is garment product for the pre-shipment inspection, then the inspector will check whether correct sizes were assigned to the shipment and all the sizes correspond as per the production dimensions and the labels.

For all other products, dimensions will be much more important, so measurements will be done for all the finished products and will be compared with the original specifications.

6. Function and safety test

These tests will depend upon the nature of products that you are importing from China. For example, if you are importing any garment, footwear or apparel, your inspector will check them physically. Check the strengths of zippers, buttons, and other accessories.

Also, fabric density will be checked to see the fabric thickness that was used on the garments. Inspectors will also count the number of stitches/inches.

If the fabric is found to be too thin, then the manufacturer must have used inferior quality of fabric.

For any moving products like bicycles or pushchairs a mechanical safety test will be conducted whether they can cause any injuries if they ever get defective.

Shape and design of the item will be checked to see if there is any sharp edges or parts available that can hurt. Shape of few critical items like screw and hinges will be checked whether they are safe enough.

If you are importing any electrical/electronic products, then there are wide ranges of safety regulations are in place that will be checked before they are certified.

To evaluate for electrical safety various testing will be done under laboratory conditions and the following tests will be conducted:

  • High voltage test: In this test, product’s ability to withstand a high voltage will be checked by applying high voltages between electrical circuit and the ground.

  • Leakage current test: Checking will be done to find whether current flowing between an AC source and the ground should not exceeds a certain specified limit.

  • Insulation resistance test: The quality of electrical insulation will be checked.

  • Ground continuity test: To make sure that a clear path exists between all exposed metal parts and the power system ground.

7. Inspection report

At the end, when all the inspection activities are completed, a detailed report will be compiled with a clear pass/fail result, detailed account of each inspection results, and an overview of various key findings.

Some pre-shipment reports also include clear images to show all inspection points, so you can verify exactly what was discovered.

For proper coordination of all these activities your sourcing agent can play a very important role to make your inspection report more authentic for you.

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