Unlocking Trade Term Knowledge to China Sourcing

Embarking on the journey of sourcing products from China requires a firm grasp of trade terms, which play a pivotal role in international trade. These terms, commonly known as Incoterms, determine the responsibilities, risks, and costs associated with shipping and delivering goods. To navigate the complexities of China sourcing successfully, it is crucial to understand the trade terms specific to sourcing from China. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the essential trade terms that can empower you to make informed decisions, negotiate effectively, and optimize your sourcing strategies when working with Chinese suppliers.

1. Ex Works (EXW):

Ex Works is a trade term that places the maximum responsibility on the buyer. In this scenario, the seller makes the goods available at their premises, and the buyer is responsible for all transportation arrangements, costs, and risks from that point forward. It is essential to have a reliable logistics partner in place to handle the shipping and customs processes efficiently. While this trade term is suitable for experienced importers with strong logistical capabilities, it may involve additional complexities for those new to China sourcing.

2. Free Carrier (FCA):

Under the Free Carrier trade term, the seller is responsible for delivering the goods to a carrier specified by the buyer at a designated location. The seller takes care of export clearance, ensuring the goods are ready for transportation. From that point on, the buyer assumes responsibility and bears the costs and risks associated with the transportation process. FCA provides flexibility in selecting the carrier, allowing buyers to work with their preferred logistics partners while optimizing shipping costs.

3. Free on Board (FOB):

FOB is a widely used trade term in China sourcing. Here, the seller is responsible for delivering the goods on board the vessel at the named port of shipment. The buyer assumes responsibility and bears the costs and risks once the goods are loaded onto the vessel. FOB provides clarity regarding the point of delivery and helps avoid confusion and potential disputes. Importers can leverage FOB to negotiate better shipping rates and exercise greater control over the transportation process.

4. Cost and Freight (CFR):

Under the Cost and Freight trade term, the seller is responsible for delivering the goods to the named port of destination. The seller handles the transportation and pays for the freight costs. However, the buyer assumes responsibility and risks once the goods are loaded onto the vessel. CFR is a commonly used term for imports from China and offers importers the advantage of cost transparency, as the seller covers transportation expenses.

5. Cost, Insurance, and Freight (CIF):

Similar to CFR, the Cost, Insurance, and Freight trade term places the responsibility for transportation and freight costs on the seller. However, CIF goes a step further by including insurance coverage. In this scenario, the seller arranges and pays for insurance, providing coverage until the goods reach the named port of destination. CIF offers importers added security, as any loss or damage during transit is covered by insurance. It is important to note that while CIF provides convenience, the inclusion of insurance may result in higher costs.

6. Delivered at Place (DAP):

The Delivered at Place trade term places the maximum responsibility on the seller. The seller is responsible for delivering the goods to the buyer at a named place of destination, taking care of transportation, customs clearance, and any associated costs and risks. DAP offers convenience for the buyer, as the seller manages most logistics aspects. However, it is crucial for the buyer to ensure clear communication and coordination with the seller to avoid any delays or complications during the delivery process.

7. Delivered Duty Paid (DDP):

Delivered Duty Paid is a trade term where the seller assumes maximum responsibility. The seller is responsible for delivering the goods to the buyer, cleared for import, and ready for unloading. They cover all costs and risks associated with transportation and import clearance, including duties and taxes. DDP provides importers with a high level of convenience, as they can receive the goods without worrying about additional costs or customs procedures. However, importers should carefully evaluate the potential impact on pricing and ensure they have a reliable logistics partner to manage the process effectively.

Additional Trade Terms:

In addition to the aforementioned trade terms, there are several other key terms relevant to China’s sourcing. Let’s briefly explore some of them:
  • Blanket Order: A blanket order is an agreement between the buyer and seller for multiple shipments of goods over a specified period, usually with predetermined pricing and terms. It provides flexibility for the buyer to release specific quantities as needed, allowing for more efficient inventory management.
  • FCL/LCL: FCL (Full Container Load) refers to a shipment that occupies a full container, while LCL (Less than Container Load) refers to a shipment that does not fill an entire container. Understanding these terms helps in determining the most suitable shipping method based on the volume and size of your goods.
  • ISS (International Shipping Services): ISS refers to the various services provided by shipping companies to facilitate international trade, including cargo transportation, documentation handling, customs clearance, and tracking.
  • Landed Cost: Landed cost refers to the total cost incurred to import goods, including the product cost, transportation expenses, customs duties, taxes, insurance, and any other related costs. Understanding the landed cost helps in accurately calculating the overall expenses associated with sourcing from China.
  • PSI (Pre-Shipment Inspection): PSI is a quality control measure where an independent third-party inspection agency conducts a thorough inspection of the goods before shipment. It helps ensure that the products meet the specified quality standards and requirements.
  • PSS (Peak Season Surcharge): PSS is an additional fee imposed by shipping lines during peak seasons when demand is high. Importers should be aware of PSS to anticipate and account for any potential surcharges during these periods.
  • Waybill: A waybill is a document issued by the carrier to acknowledge receipt of goods and provide details of the shipment, including the origin, destination, and route. It serves as proof of contract and facilitates the tracking and delivery of goods.


A comprehensive understanding of trade terms is essential for successful sourcing from China. By familiarizing yourself with the specific trade terms relevant to China sourcing, you gain a competitive edge in negotiating contracts, optimizing your sourcing strategies, and ensuring a smoother import process. Remember to discuss and clarify trade terms with your Chinese suppliers to establish clear expectations and mitigate potential misunderstandings. 

With this knowledge and guidance, you can confidently navigate the intricacies of international trade, capitalize on the benefits of sourcing from China, and forge successful partnerships with your suppliers.