On 8 March, the Chinese Ambassador to the Netherlands, Tan Jian, formally deposited the Instrument of Accession to the 1961 Apostille Convention, which will come into force in China, on 7 November 2023. The Convention removes the requirement for foreign public documents to be legalised, with Chinese citizens being able to have their formal papers recognised in other countries and non Chinese citizens having the same benefit in China, which will have many benefits for foreign investment in the country.

What is the Apostille Convention?

The term Apostille derives from the Apostille Certificate, which is an official certificate from a government that makes a document from one country acceptable in another and it is issued by a government in accordance with the Hague Convention. The Apostille Convention, or to use its formal title, the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, provides a simplified certification of public documents to be used in countries that are a party to the Convention.

Prior to the introduction of the new Apostille Certificates, the burden on international courts and authorities to prove that foreign documents were authentic was quite considerable. Since the Convention came into force in January 1965, it abolished the requirement of legalisation for foreign documents, replacing it with the simple delivery of a certificate in prescribed form, an Apostille, by the authorities of the country where the documents originate. This certificate, which is dated, numbered and registered, is placed on the documents and the verification of registration can be undertaken without difficulty, by means of a simple request for information addressed to the issuing authority. As of July 2019, there were 117 countries that had joined the Apostille Convention and China is now set to join them.

What are the benefits for China in joining the Apostille Convention?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China has explained the reasons for the country becoming a party to the Convention. It stated that it would simplify the use of public documents abroad and this would facilitate international trade, and person to person exchange, significantly reducing the processing time by 90 percent. There will be financial benefits for businesses, with an estimated annual savings of up to 300 million yuan. The streamlined procedure will assist foreign businesses to trade with China, as setting up a company in China involves commercial documentation and litigating against intellectual property infringers, all involve documents being notarised and legalised. Chinese citizens will also benefit individually, as their academic degrees, driving licence health certification, household registry certificates and other papers, will be internationally recognised.

On 10 March, China's Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, Mao Ning, gave a press conference and she recognised that China's accession to the Apostille Convention was an important step towards a greater institutional opening up to foreign investment and importation, with benefits for over 70 per cent of the China's export related commercial documents.

Businesses will also benefit when engaging in legal transactions, as all forms of legal documents including those required in international litigation, will involve the new Apostille certification, which in due course, your attorney may be able to obtain on your behalf.