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What is Cross-Border E-Commerce, its advantage, and how does it work?

In China, there are two main ways to sell products: through general trade, namely the traditional way; and through Cross-Border E-Commerce (CBEC). CBEC involves the online sale of certain products across borders and through dedicated platforms. It differs from general trade in that it enables EU SMEs to sell directly to Chinese consumers without the need of establishing a company in China: sellers can place their products in an online shop on one of the dedicated CBEC platforms, and the Chinese customer can order directly through the platform. This can be done through two main ways: (i) direct shipment from the exporting country once the order is made; (ii) direct shipment from a warehouse in a bonded zone in mainland China, where CBEC imported goods may be temporarily hosted even before online orders are made.

Through CBEC, imported goods are cleared by customs without the need for premarket access product filing, registration or certification – which are instead mandatory through general trade for most product categories. This allows imported products to be sold in a more rapid and cheaper manner, and potentially to sell products otherwise not allowed to be imported via general trade, such as certain F&B categories that require government protocols.

However, not any product can be sold via CBEC: only those included in a specific Positive List, officially called Catalogue of Products Authorised for Retail Import via Cross-Border E-commerce, can be sold in this way. There are currently 1,476 items on the list, covering most categories of consumer goods, including OTC drugs or other categories subject to strict market access requirements. An unofficial translation of the Positive List is available in dedicated resources produced by the EU SME Centre, together with more details on CBEC as well as dedicated CBEC platforms, their costs and strengths.