The Guide to Importing From China

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How to Import from China: Best Practices, Do’s and Don'ts

Importing from China to the USA has become a popular business practice in recent years. The reason behind this trend is the availability of low-cost products in China, which can be sold at a higher price in the USA. However, importing from China is not as simple as it may seem. There are various factors to consider, such as import duties, shipping costs, customs regulations, and quality control.

One of the most critical factors to consider when importing from China to the USA is the import duty. Import duties are taxes that are imposed by the US government on imported goods. These duties are calculated based on the value of the imported goods, the country of origin, and the product's classification. Therefore, it is essential to calculate the import duty before importing any product from China to the USA to avoid any surprises and additional costs.

Another factor to consider when importing from China to the USA is the shipping cost. Shipping costs depend on various factors such as the weight and size of the product, the shipping method, and the shipping company. It is crucial to choose a reliable shipping company that can deliver the product on time and at a reasonable cost. Additionally, it is essential to ensure that the product is shipped in compliance with the customs regulations to avoid any delays or penalties.

Requirements and Paperwork to Import from China

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Importing goods from China to the U.S. involves several steps and requires various forms of paperwork and federal authorization to ensure compliance with U.S. laws and regulations.

Here is a list of the common paperwork and federal authorizations to get started:

Customs Bond
A guarantee that all duties, taxes, and fees owed to the government will be paid. Required for imports over a certain value or those subject to other federal agency requirements.
Bill of Lading (B/L) or Air Waybill (AWB)
The contract between the goods owner and the carrier, detailing the shipment and transport information.
Commercial Invoice
A document from the exporter detailing the goods, their value, and the terms of sale.
Packing List
Details each package's contents, including weight, dimensions, and the contents of each box, crate, or container.
Arrival Notice
Issued by the carrier to notify the importer that the shipment has arrived.
Import License
Required for certain goods as a condition of entry into the U.S.
Entry Manifest (CBP Form 7533) or Entry/Immediate Delivery (CBP Form 3461)
Required for the entry of goods into the U.S., includes information about the importer, carrier, origin of goods, and estimated duties.
Entry Summary (CBP Form 7501)
Provides detailed information about the goods being imported, including classification, valuation, and duties.
Certificate of Origin
Required for some goods to determine eligibility for import under specific trade agreements or to determine the duty rate.
Compliance with Other Federal Agencies
Depending on the goods, compliance with regulations from agencies such as the FDA, USDA, EPA, or CPSC may be necessary.
Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Documentation
Documentation proving the right to import goods subject to intellectual property rights into the U.S.

The Basics of Importing

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Now that we’ve touched base on the administrative and legal requirements, it is important to understand the basics of importing to avoid costly mistakes. This section will provide a brief overview of the key concepts associated with importing from China.

International Trade Agreements

International trade agreements play an important role in regulating imports from China to the United States. The most important agreement is the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement, which governs trade between member countries. The United States and China are both members of the WTO, which means that they must comply with the organization's rules and regulations.

Another example of an important trade agreement is the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The USMCA governs trade between the United States, Mexico, and Canada and includes provisions related to the import and export of goods.

While some agreements directly affect imports from China, it is important to always check the official resources for bilateral agreements, bans or changes in regulations.

Import Regulations and Policies

The United States has strict import regulations and policies that importers must comply with. These regulations are designed to protect consumers and ensure that imported goods meet certain safety and quality standards.

In some cases, regulations prohibit or restrict the importation of certain goods from all countries, including China. These regulations are subject to change based on new legislation or adjustments in trade policies. Some products that are generally banned or restricted include:

Description of Banned/Restricted Products
Counterfeit and Pirated Goods
The importation of counterfeit trademark goods and pirated copyright materials is prohibited.
Drugs and Substances
Certain drugs, substances, and chemicals classified as controlled substances are restricted or banned without proper authorization.
Hazardous Materials
Chemicals, substances, and materials considered hazardous are subject to strict regulations.
Wildlife and Animal Products
Endangered species and products made from them are prohibited or strictly regulated.
Food Products
Some food products are restricted or banned due to health concerns, including potential pests or diseases.
Plants and Seeds
The importation of plants, seeds, and soil is restricted to prevent the spread of pests or diseases harmful to U.S. agriculture.
Cultural Artifacts and Antiquities
Items may be prohibited if they were exported illegally from the source country.
Toys and Children’s Products
Products that do not meet U.S. safety standards, including items with lead paint or small parts, are banned.
Textiles and Clothing
Subject to quotas and restrictions; items not meeting safety standards are banned.
Electronics and Technology
Restricted due to safety concerns or components that could be used in weapons of mass destruction.
Ivory and Certain Animal Products
Heavily restricted or banned to protect endangered species and combat poaching.
Asbestos-Containing Products
Products containing asbestos are restricted due to health risks.

Some of the key regulations that importers must comply with include:

  • Tariffs and duties: Importers must pay tariffs and duties on imported goods, which can vary depending on the type of product and its country of origin.
  • Customs clearance: All imported goods must go through customs clearance, which involves submitting the necessary paperwork and paying any applicable fees.
  • Product safety and labeling: Imported goods must meet certain safety and labeling requirements, such as having warning labels in English and complying with product safety standards.
  • Intellectual property rights: Importers must ensure that they are not importing counterfeit or pirated goods that infringe on intellectual property rights.

Importers who fail to comply with these regulations can face fines, penalties, and even legal action. It is therefore important to work with a reputable customs broker or freight forwarder who can help navigate the complex regulations associated with importing from China to the United States.

Identifying What You Want to Import

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Before you start importing products from China to the USA, you need to identify what you want to import. This involves researching the market to determine which products are in demand and which ones are likely to sell well in the USA.

Product Sourcing

Once you have identified the products you want to import, you need to find a reliable supplier in China. There are many ways to source products from China, including online marketplaces, trade shows, and personal referrals.

One popular online marketplace for product sourcing is Alibaba. It is a platform that connects buyers with suppliers from all over the world, including China. You can search for products by category, price range, and other criteria.

Another option for product sourcing is attending trade shows. Trade shows are events where manufacturers and suppliers showcase their products to potential buyers. Attending a trade show allows you to meet suppliers face-to-face and see their products in person.

Supplier Verification

Once you have identified potential suppliers, you need to verify their reliability and credibility. This involves checking their business licenses, certifications, and other credentials.

One way to verify a supplier is to request a sample of their product before placing a large order. This allows you to test the quality of their product and assess their reliability.

You can also check the supplier's reputation by reading online reviews and feedback from other buyers. This can give you an idea of their track record and customer satisfaction levels.

Overall, identifying what you want to import and finding a reliable supplier is crucial to the success of your import business. By doing your research and due diligence, you can ensure that you are importing high-quality products that will sell well in the USA.

Getting Packaging from China: A Strategic Move for Importers

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When businesses import products from China, a key consideration often overlooked is the sourcing of packaging. Opting to source your product packaging from China, especially when you are already importing goods, can present numerous advantages:

  1. Streamlining logistics,
  2. Possibly lower costs,
  3. Ensure that products are retail-ready or shipment-ready faster.

A simple way to take advantage of this opportunity is by leveraging PackMojo. PackMojo works with a vetted network of suppliers across China, so businesses can have their packaged produced and sent directly to their manufacturers in China, then have the final (packaged) product sent over to their elected location in the USA, or worldwide.

Additional Benefits of Custom Boxes directly from China

On top of the logistic and cost benefits we just discussed, ordering bespoke packaging and custom boxes offer a unique avenue for importers from China to uplift their brand and provide a premium experience to their final customers.

This tailored approach to packaging allows businesses to stand out in a crowded marketplace by creating an unforgettable first impression. By incorporating brand elements, colors, and personalized designs into packaging, companies can tell their brand's story more effectively, fostering a deeper emotional connection with customers.

Furthermore, custom packaging solutions can be designed with both aesthetics and functionality in mind, ensuring that products arrive safely and present a visually appealing unboxing experience. This level of detail and personalization in packaging can differentiate a brand from its competitors, turning a simple product delivery into a memorable brand experience that customers are eager to share and talk about.

Calculating Import Costs and Budgeting

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Importing goods from China to the USA can be a cost-effective way to obtain quality products for personal or business use. However, it is important to consider all the associated costs and budget accordingly to avoid any unexpected expenses.

Import Duties and Taxes

Import duties and taxes are fees collected by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency on imported goods. The amount of duty and tax payable depends on the commodity code for the product being imported and the value of the shipment. To calculate the import duty, one needs to check the commodity code for the product and apply the relevant duty rate.

For example, if a shipment of garden umbrellas from China to the US is valued at $28,000, and the commodity code for umbrellas has a duty rate of 6.5%, the import duty payable would be $1,820. It is important to note that the duty rate may vary depending on the product being imported, so it is essential to research the relevant duty rate before importing.

Shipping and Handling Fees

In addition to import duties and taxes, there are various shipping and handling fees associated with importing goods from China to the US. These fees may include freight charges, insurance fees, customs clearance fees, and other miscellaneous charges.

Freight charges are the fees charged by the shipping company for transporting the goods from China to the US. Insurance fees are charged to protect the goods during transit. Customs clearance fees are charged by the customs broker for processing the import paperwork. Other miscellaneous charges may include storage fees, handling fees, and other charges associated with the delivery of the goods.

It is essential to research and compare shipping and handling fees from different shipping companies to ensure that the best deal is obtained. Additionally, it is important to factor in these fees when budgeting for the overall cost of importing goods from China to the US.

Choosing the Right Shipping Method

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When importing goods from China to the USA, choosing the right shipping method is crucial. The shipping method you choose will affect the cost, delivery time, and safety of your goods. Here are some factors to consider when choosing the right shipping method:

Sea Freight Options

Sea freight is the most popular shipping method for importing goods from China to the USA. It is suitable for large shipments of goods that are not time-sensitive. Sea freight is cheaper than air freight, but it takes longer. Here are some sea freight options:

  • Full Container Load (FCL): FCL is suitable for large shipments that require a full container. It is more cost-effective than Less than Container Load (LCL) for shipments over 15 cubic meters.
  • Less than Container Load (LCL): LCL is suitable for smaller shipments that do not require a full container. It is more expensive than FCL, but it allows you to share the cost of a container with other importers.
  • Roll-on Roll-off (RoRo): RoRo is suitable for shipping vehicles, heavy machinery, and oversized cargo. The cargo is driven onto the ship and secured in place.

Air Freight Options

Air freight is suitable for time-sensitive shipments that require fast delivery. It is more expensive than sea freight, but it is faster and more reliable. Here are some air freight options:

  • Standard Air Freight: Standard air freight is suitable for shipments that are not time-sensitive. It is cheaper than express air freight, but it takes longer (around 2 weeks).
  • Express Air Freight: Express air freight is suitable for time-sensitive shipments that require fast delivery. It is more expensive than standard air freight, but it is faster and more reliable (within 1 week).

Choosing the right shipping method is crucial when importing goods from China to the USA: consider the size, weight, and delivery time of your goods when choosing between sea freight and air freight. If you need some items delivered quicker, you could also consider splitting your shipment between both shipping channels.

What are FOB, CIF and EXW in Shipping from China?

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The terms FOB, CIF, and EXW are internationally recognized Incoterms published by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). These terms define key responsibilities, costs, and risks associated with the shipping and delivery of goods in international trade. Understanding these terms is crucial for businesses engaged in importing and exporting. Here’s a detailed explanation of each:

FOB (Free On Board)

Definition: FOB specifies that the seller is responsible for delivering the goods on board a vessel designated by the buyer at a named port of shipment. The risk of loss or damage to the goods passes from the seller to the buyer as soon as the goods are on board the vessel.


  • Seller: Pays for and arranges transportation of goods to the port, loading onto the vessel, and all export duties and costs. The seller’s responsibility ends once the goods are on board.
  • Buyer: Assumes all risks and costs from the point the goods are on board the ship. This includes sea freight, insurance, unloading, and transportation costs from the destination port to the final destination.

Use Case: Commonly used for sea or inland waterway transport.

CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight)

Definition: CIF means the seller delivers the goods, cleared for export, on board the vessel. Beyond just loading the goods, the seller must pay the costs and freight necessary to bring the goods to the named port of destination. Additionally, the seller must procure marine insurance against the buyer's risk of loss or damage during carriage.


  • Seller: Covers the cost of transportation and freight to the destination port and must obtain insurance for the goods until they are delivered to the destination port.
  • Buyer: Takes on all risks and additional costs once the goods have reached the destination port. The buyer is also responsible for unloading and further transportation from the port of destination to the final destination.

Use Case: Primarily used for sea or inland waterway transport.

EXW (Ex Works)

Definition: EXW indicates that the seller makes the goods available at their premises (factory, warehouse, etc.) to the buyer. The seller’s responsibility ends when the goods are made available for pickup.


  • Seller: Must pack the goods and make them available for collection at the agreed-upon place, usually their own premises. The seller is not responsible for loading the goods on the collecting vehicle or for clearing the goods for export, unless otherwise agreed.
  • Buyer: Assumes all costs and risks involved in taking the goods from the seller’s premises to the desired destination. This includes loading the goods, all transportation costs, export and import duties, taxes, and customs clearance.

Use Case: Offers maximum obligation on the buyer and minimum obligations on the seller. It’s suitable for domestic sales or when the buyer has a strong presence in the seller's country.

Key Differences and Considerations:

Risk Transfer: FOB transfers risk from the seller to the buyer once the goods are on board the vessel. CIF and EXW have different points of risk transfer, with CIF transferring risk at the destination port and EXW at the seller's premises.

Cost Responsibility: CIF puts more responsibility on the seller to cover costs and insurance until the destination port. EXW puts almost all cost responsibilities on the buyer from the outset. FOB splits responsibilities, with the seller covering costs up to and including loading onto the vessel.

Suitability: The choice among these terms depends on the agreement between buyer and seller, considering factors like control over the shipping process, costs, and experience in handling logistic operations.

How Does US Customs Clearance Work?

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When importing goods from China, managing the customs clearance process is a critical step in ensuring a smooth and successful transaction. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind:

Required Documentation

To import goods from China to the USA, there are several required documents that must be prepared and submitted to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). We covered the full list at the beginning of this article, but the main documents include:

  • Commercial Invoice: This document provides a detailed description of the goods being imported, including the quantity, value, and country of origin.
  • Bill of Lading: This document serves as a receipt for the goods being shipped and provides information about the carrier, the origin and destination ports, and the type of shipment.
  • Packing List: This document provides a detailed list of the contents of each package being shipped, including the weight, dimensions, and markings.
  • Entry Summary: This document is filed with CBP and provides a summary of the goods being imported, including the classification, value, and duty rate.

It is important to ensure that all of these documents are accurate and complete, as any errors or omissions can result in delays or penalties.

Customs Bonds

Another important consideration when dealing with customs clearance is the requirement for a customs bond. A customs bond is a financial guarantee that ensures that all duties, taxes, and fees owed to CBP will be paid in full. There are two types of customs bonds: single-entry bonds, which cover a single shipment, and continuous bonds, which cover multiple shipments over a period of time.

It is important to work with a customs broker or freight forwarder to determine the appropriate type and amount of customs bond required for your shipment. Failure to obtain the necessary customs bond can result in delays or even seizure of your goods.

Compliance with Additional US Standards

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Importing products from China to the US requires compliance with various safety and quality regulations. Failure to comply with these regulations can lead to penalties, fines, and even product recalls. Therefore, importers must ensure that their products meet the required safety and quality standards.

Safety and Quality Regulations

The US government has established safety and quality regulations to protect consumers from harm caused by unsafe or low-quality products. Importers must ensure that their products meet these regulations before importing them into the US. Some of the key regulations that importers must comply with include:

  • Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA): This act sets safety standards for consumer products, including toys, electronics, and children's products. Importers must ensure that their products meet the CPSIA standards before importing them into the US.
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations: The FDA regulates the safety and quality of food, drugs, and medical devices. Importers of these products must comply with the FDA regulations to ensure that their products are safe for consumers.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations: The EPA regulates the safety and environmental impact of chemicals and other substances. Importers of products containing these substances must comply with the EPA regulations to ensure that their products are safe for consumers and the environment.

Labeling Requirements

In addition to safety and quality regulations, importers must also comply with labeling requirements. Labeling requirements ensure that consumers have access to important information about the products they purchase. Some of the key labeling requirements that importers must comply with include:

  • Country of Origin Labeling (COOL): This requirement mandates that imported products must be labeled with their country of origin. This information helps consumers make informed decisions about the products they purchase.
  • Warning labels: Certain products, such as tobacco products and chemicals, must be labeled with warning labels to inform consumers of potential hazards.
  • Ingredient labels: Food and cosmetic products must be labeled with a list of ingredients to inform consumers of potential allergens and other ingredients.

Importers must ensure that their products meet all labeling requirements before importing them into the US. Failure to comply with labeling requirements can lead to penalties and fines.

Protecting your Shipment

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When importing goods from China to the USA, it's important to take measures to protect your shipment. This includes considering insurance policies and risk management strategies.

Insurance Policies

One way to protect your shipment is to purchase insurance. This can help cover the cost of damages or losses that may occur during shipping. There are several types of insurance policies available, including:

  • Cargo insurance: This type of insurance covers the value of the goods being shipped.
  • Marine insurance: This type of insurance covers damages that may occur during transit, such as those caused by rough seas or piracy.
  • Freight insurance: This type of insurance covers the cost of the shipping itself, including any fees or charges.

It's important to carefully review the terms and conditions of any insurance policy before purchasing it. This will help ensure that you understand what is covered and what is not.

Risk Management Strategies

In addition to insurance, there are several risk management strategies that can be used to protect your shipment. These include:

  • Proper packaging: Ensuring that goods are properly packaged can help prevent damage during shipping.
  • Quality control: Conducting quality control inspections can help identify any issues with the goods before they are shipped.
  • Choosing a reputable carrier: Selecting a reputable carrier can help reduce the risk of loss or damage during shipping.
  • Using a freight forwarder: Working with a freight forwarder can help ensure that all necessary paperwork and documentation is in order, reducing the risk of delays or other issues.

By taking these measures, importers can help protect their shipments and ensure that goods arrive safely and in good condition.

Leveraging Free Trade Zones

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Benefits of FTZs

Free Trade Zones (FTZs) are designated areas where goods can be imported, stored, processed, and re-exported without being subject to customs duties or taxes. The establishment of FTZs has been a significant factor in the growth of international trade. FTZs help businesses reduce costs, streamline operations, and improve supply chain efficiency.

One of the primary benefits of FTZs is that they allow businesses to defer or eliminate customs duties and taxes. This can result in significant cost savings for businesses that import goods from China to the USA. Additionally, FTZs can help businesses mitigate the risk of supply chain disruptions by providing a buffer zone for inventory and production.

Another benefit of FTZs is that they provide businesses with access to specialized facilities and services. FTZs often have advanced infrastructure, including transportation networks, communication systems, and utilities. They also offer a range of value-added services, such as warehousing, logistics, and distribution.

How to Utilize FTZs

To take advantage of the benefits of FTZs, businesses must first obtain approval from the appropriate authorities. In the USA, the Foreign-Trade Zones Board is responsible for approving applications for FTZ status. Once approved, businesses can begin to utilize the benefits of the FTZ.

To utilize FTZs, businesses must follow specific procedures for importing, storing, processing, and re-exporting goods. These procedures are designed to ensure that businesses comply with customs regulations and maintain the integrity of the FTZ.

Businesses must also keep detailed records of all activities within the FTZ. These records must be maintained in accordance with customs regulations and made available for inspection upon request.

In conclusion, FTZs offer businesses a range of benefits that can help reduce costs, improve efficiency, and mitigate supply chain risk. To take advantage of these benefits, businesses must obtain approval from the appropriate authorities and follow specific procedures for importing, storing, processing, and re-exporting goods within the FTZ.

Handling Post-Import Processes

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After successfully importing goods from China to the USA, the next step is to handle the post-import processes. This section will discuss two crucial aspects of post-import processes: warehousing and storage, and distribution and fulfillment.

Warehousing and Storage

Once the goods arrive in the USA, they need to be stored in a warehouse. It is essential to choose a warehouse that is strategically located and has the necessary facilities to store the imported goods. The warehouse should have adequate space, security, and climate control if necessary.

It is also important to ensure that the goods are properly labeled and organized for easy retrieval. A labeling system should be established to keep track of the inventory and ensure that the right products are being stored in the right place.

Distribution and Fulfillment

Distribution and fulfillment are critical aspects of post-import processes. After the goods have been stored in the warehouse, they need to be distributed to the customers. A reliable and efficient distribution system should be established to ensure that the goods reach the customers on time.

Fulfillment involves the process of receiving orders from customers, processing them, and shipping the products to the customers. It is important to have a streamlined fulfillment process to ensure that the orders are processed quickly and accurately.

In conclusion, handling post-import processes is crucial to ensure the success of importing goods from China to the USA. By following the guidelines discussed in this section, importers can ensure that their goods are stored, distributed, and fulfilled efficiently and effectively.

Staying Informed on Trade Developments

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As the import market from China to the USA continues to evolve, it is important for businesses to stay informed on the latest market trends and policy changes. Here are some key areas to keep an eye on:

Market Trends

One important trend to watch is the increasing competition from other countries. While China remains a major player in the import market, businesses should be aware of emerging markets that may offer better deals or more favorable trade policies.

Another trend to watch is the impact of technology on the import market. As e-commerce continues to grow, businesses may find new opportunities to source products directly from manufacturers, cutting out intermediaries and reducing costs.

Policy Changes

Businesses should also stay informed on policy changes that may affect the import market. For example, the 2018-19 trade war between the US and China resulted in tariffs that are still in place today. The US-China "phase one" agreement in January 2020 did not remove these tariffs.

Additionally, businesses should keep an eye on any changes to trade policies or regulations. For example, recent changes to US customs regulations have increased the scrutiny of imports, which can cause delays and additional costs for businesses.

Staying informed on market trends and policy changes can help businesses make informed decisions about their import strategies, and stay ahead of the competition. By keeping an eye on emerging markets, leveraging technology, and staying up-to-date on policy changes, businesses can position themselves for success in the ever-changing import market.

Wrapping Up

Throughout this guide we've traversed a broad spectrum of topics essential for businesses importing goods from China. From the strategic benefits of securing both products and custom packaging, to enhancing customer experiences, the intricacies of managing import duties, shipping expenses, and customs regulations for smooth operations.

We delved into the necessity of adhering to meticulous documentation and federal requirements, underlining the importance of compliance and detailed planning. Moreover, we highlighted the crucial role of international trade agreements, the diligent approach required to adhere to import regulations, and avoid restricted products, as well as the financial considerations pivotal in assessing import costs.

We shed some light on the crucial decisions between different shipping methods, the intricacies of US customs clearance, and strategic measures to safeguard shipments and maximize the efficiency and cost benefits of Free Trade Zones.

Finally, recognizing the dynamic landscape of international trade, we acknowledged the importance of staying informed on market trends and policy changes. This guide through the challenges and strategies of importing from China underscores the need for strategic foresight, comprehensive knowledge, and flexibility in the global market.

To further enhance your brand and customer experience with bespoke packaging solutions, discover how PackMojo can transform your processes by simplifying the logistics process, as well as enhancing your products with customized packaging that stands out.

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