How to Import from China in 2019

January 5, 2019 in Blog, Importing, Portal: Importing, Portal: Products
How to Import from China in 2019
Do you want to know the secrets of importing from China that Amazon sellers are using to make millions? In this guide I’ll walk you through the secrets of finding home run products and getting them to Amazon FBA warehouses – all without getting scammed on Alibaba.

Boat importing Chinese Goods in Container

This mega guide will give you all of the information you need to get started importing from China: Everything from finding the perfect product, negotiating with suppliers, to figuring out the best way to ship your items.

Container from China for Importing goods

Why Import from China?

If you plan to run your own ecommerce business then you need to be importing from China to succeed. The drop shipping model where you buy and resell somebody else’s products is more or less dead. Here are some other reasons to import from China:

  • High-profit margins (and much higher than drop-shipping) means you can make a lot of money
  • It’s easy to import into America (even for non-Americans)
  • Developing real, tangible products and selling them is exciting
  • No need to travel to China to find products
  • But if you do travel to China it’s fun and adventurous
More Profit Margins from China

How Much Money Can You Make Importing from China?

In 2016 I sold my previous importing company, and that year I made over a million dollars in profit basically from importing. It took me nearly 10 years to get to that point, but ecommerce and Amazon were also considerably smaller when I started.

ecommerce company revenue stats

Generally speaking, when I import products, I want to double my money within 6 months.

Importing from China is very much a cash-dependent game. In many ways, you’re turning nickles into dimes, but how many dimes you accumulate depends on how many nickles you start with.

Is it Too Late to Import and Sell on Amazon?

The short answer is no.

In 2017, I started a new brand that nearly hit a million dollars in revenue in under a year. Amazon continues to grow at 15%+ year and there’s continued growth and demand for new products.

To sell on Amazon today and be successful though you need to be making better products in some way (even if it’s a very small way). Importing undifferentiated me-too products no longer works.

I’ll cover product development below.

What You Need to Get Started Importing

The most important thing you need to import from China is money to buy inventory. Generally, I recommend having at least $500 to buy inventory and ideally $2000-5000.

What you need

  • $2000-5000 for purchasing products
  • An Amazon.com Sellers Central account

What you don’t need

  • To be physically present in America or have an American EIN, SSN, or Business
  • Have any Chinese language knowledge

Nice to have as you grow

  • A customs broker
  • A Third-Party Logistics company (3PL)
  • A Freight Forwarder
  • An Inspection company in China

You will also need an Amazon Seller Central account if you plan to sell on Amazon. This will cost you $39.99 a month.

You do not need a U.S. business.

The United States makes importing products and selling them VERY easy for both Americans and non-Americans.  For shipment values greater than $2500 you need a personal SSIN, your business EIN, or for non-Americans, you can apply for what they call a non-resident importing number. However, for shipments under $800, you do not need any of these.

importing mini course

Needless to say, you do not need any Chinese language knowledge as well. Almost all Chinese suppliers who export have English language websites and sales catalogs and at least a couple of staff members with reasonable English.

Find Made in China Products

How to Find Home Run Products to Import and Sell on Amazon

The big question you’re all probably asking now is: how do I find a GOOD product to import from China?

When you’re importing from China you’re basically looking at private labeling products. This means you’re taking an existing product, putting your brand on it, and possibly making some light product improvements.

When I’m looking for products to import I’m looking for three basic things:

  • Little or no “optimized competition” on Amazon
  • Products that can be profitable to sell
  • Products that I can easily improve 

I cover how to find products a lot more in the post how to find the perfect product to import from China and sell on Amazon.

Good Products vs. Bad products to import from China

Good and Bad Products to Import from China

China is the factory of the world but there are certain products which are good for small importers and others which are bad. Identifying good and bad products basically comes down to understanding two critical differences between China and Western countries:

  • China is a developing country with different quality standards from the West
  • China has different norms around intellectual property and there are a lot of counterfeit products

Chinese factories make a lot of crappy products but also make a lot of excellent products. One of the ways to avoid crappy quality products is to import simple products. Example products would be mouse traps, garlic presses, and furniture. More complex products are more likely to have quality issues. Remember the exploding hoverboards?)

Hoverboard catching fire

On the contrary, the more complex a product is, the higher the likelihood it will be produced of bad quality. The most obvious examples of these are electronics. China still produces enormous amounts of terrible quality electronics and it’s where I see new importers being burned most often.

You should also avoid importing any inherently dangerous products. The importer (re: you) is responsible for any personal or property damage your products may cause. Products to avoid include any electrical devices, baby products, digestible products, etc.

Good products to import from China

  • Simple
  • Labor-intensive
  • No patents or other IP

Bad products to import from China

  • Complex
  • Electronics and/or electricals
  • Inherently dangerous products
  • Products with a patent and other IP

Finally, China is home to a lot of knock-offs. You will find a wide variety of counterfeit products to import including products that violate trademarks, copyrights, and/or patents.

It’s a very bad idea to import counterfeit products – they may be seized at the border, Amazon may suspend your account, and even worse things can happen.

Don’t do it.

How to Find Good Suppliers in China

Alibaba & Beyond: How to Find Great Suppliers in China

China is an incredibly safe country (the 32nd safest in the world). It has a strong legal system and being scammed is very rare.

China Safety Chart

Your primary concern will be ensuring quality products. Chinese factories won’t steal your money but they may send your inferior quality products.

The most popular places to find suppliers are:

The most common place to find suppliers are on Alibaba and Aliexpress and we have an excellent guide on using Alibaba.

With Alibaba, you’re normally buying from the factory or at least a very specialized trading company and they have relatively high minimum order quantities (MOQ). With Aliexpress you are normally buying from a reseller and you can buy one or two items at a time but at a much higher price.

canton fair

My preferred method (by far) for finding a supplier is by visiting trade shows. The best suppliers often do not advertise on Alibaba but do attend trade shows. The Canton Fair is the largest trade show in China and is good but it is even better to go to industry-specific trade shows.

Sourcing companies can be useful for finding difficult to locate products but normally are reserved for higher order volumes.

Trading Companies vs Factories – Which is Best for You?

factory pros and cons

In China, there are two basic types of suppliers: factories and trading companies.

Factories manufacture products. Trading companies do not manufacture products but source lots of different products from different factories.

In general factories have lower prices than Trading Companies but higher minimum order quantities and less product selection.

Often the supplier will say in their company name manufacturer or trading company so they are quite easy to distinguish. If in doubt, ask your supplier what type they are.

Neither trading companies nor factories are inherently bad or good. Trading companies (normally) have lower MOQs and better quality controls. Factories (normally) have lower prices.

Ordering Samples From China and Placing your First Order

Ordering Samples and Making Your First Order

Once you find a great product to import, order a sample of that product from the supplier. Your supplier will likely charge you a sample fee as well as the cost of air shipping that product to you (which can be anywhere from $50+)

Once you’ve reviewed the quality of the sample, you can proceed to place a larger order. I normally suggest making your first order size as low as possible (the supplier’s minimum order quantity)You want to gradually build up the order size with your supplier over the course of two or three orders.

When you place your order, submit an actual Purchase Order (aka an invoice) that consists of the following things:

  • Order quantity
  • Price
  • Shipping terms, i.e FOB, CFR, EXW (More on this later)
  • Date the order will be completed
sample purchase order

We’ve provided a free sample purchase order (Excel) you can download here.

Negociate Quote from Chinese Suppliers

How to Negotiate Rock Bottom Prices and Low MOQs

The first thing you must do before trying to negotiate any pricing is to get multiple quotes, ideally from three or more suppliers. This will tell you what the normal cost of your desired products is.

Order several samples and try selling them on Amazon before committing to a larger order.

In China, there is a golden rule: quality is directly related to price. Abnormally low priced items normally mean low quality. Another reason for a low price can be:

  • The quality is significantly lower than others
  • Different shipping terms (i.e. EXW instead of FOB)
  • Significantly higher minimum order quantity (MOQ)

Once you determine what a normal cost is for your items you can try to negotiate pricing. However, prices in China are becoming more and more fixed and negotiation is becoming more difficult. A 5-10% discount off of quoted prices is normally significant.

Where you can negotiate is minimum order quantities (MOQ). Often you can negotiate the suppliers quoted MOQ down by 50% or more.

Payment Terms and Making Payments

When you are arranging payment terms with your supplier, the most common terms you will come across will be 30/70. That means you pay 30% when the order is placed and 70% upon completion. Never accept an order requiring a 100% deposit unless the order is small (less than $2000).

Payment is almost always made by wire transfer or sometimes referred to as TT (telegraphic transfer). Payment by credit card or PayPal is generally not accepted for orders larger than $5000 or so.

Payment is almost always in US dollars. The Chinese Renminbi is pegged to the U.S. dollar so there’ll never be any currency fluctuations unless the Chinese government decides to appreciate or depreciate their currency.

If your source of revenue is not in US dollars then you’ll be subject to currency fluctuations between your home currency and the US Dollar. If you’re transferring currency often, I suggest using an exchange service like Transfer Wise that will have significantly better exchange rates than most banks.

Quality inspection of Product in China

How to Ensure You Receive High-Quality Products

Your biggest concerns when importing from China will be to ensure that you’re getting quality products.

Quality standards are the biggest difference between Chinese manufacturing and Western manufacturing. Western countries (re: Amazon buyers) have much higher quality standards than in China.

If you do not define what exactly a Western quality product is, your supplier will send you Chinese quality products.

There are three things you need to do to ensure quality products:

  1. Define what a quality product looks like
  2. Inspect your shipments to ensure they meet the above definition
  3. Be continuously vigilant against quality fade

Define “Quality Product”: Define every important specification of your product. For example, if you’re importing bags, define the following:

  • Zipper type
  • Fabric type and weight
  • Button type
  • Critical Dimensions
  • Strap type and size

If you received a sample and the quality is good, ask your supplier what exact materials were used for various components to prevent them from substituting for inferior materials later. Include these specifications in your Purchase Order.

Related reading: How to Avoid Crappy Quality Products when Importing from China

Inspect your Shipments: We have an in-depth guide on how to conduct a third-party inspection. A third-party inspection costs about $300 and a company like AsiaInspection will send a person out to your factory, for an entire day, to inspect your products. There’s no reason not to do it.

Avoid Quality Fade: If you are not vigilant, the quality of your products will fade over time.  You will not all of a sudden receive products that are awful. Instead, over time quality will start to be skimped here and there until at one point you receive awful products.

Show your supplier that quality is important to you. Inform your supplier of every defect you receive on an order and ensure they fix it on the next order.

Shipping & Logistics

Shipping and Logistics

In my own personal experience and after helping other first-time importers, having your goods shipped to you and receiving them is one of the most stressful and most challenging aspects of importing.

Three Ways to Ship Your Products: Air Courier, Air Freight, and Sea Freight

There are three ways to ship your items from China: air courier, air freight, and sea freight.

Air Courier is Door to Door Service

Air courier is simple for most people to understand. UPS, FedEx, and DHL are air courier services.

This is what they call a door-to-door service. Your supplier ships your products and they arrive wherever you want them to arrive, i.e. your home or Amazon warehouse.

The courier also has customs brokerage service so you don’t need to worry about getting a customs broker.

Air Freight vs Sea Freight

Air Freight and Sea Freight differ vastly from air courier (FYI there is no such thing as sea courier). These services are arranged through a freight forwarder and typically are quoted from China to some airport or sea port, i.e. to the sea port of Long Beach (near Los Angeles) or Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

You will either have to arrange to have your goods picked up or ask your freight forwarder to arrange to have them shipped to your final destination (which will involve a significant surcharge). They will not provide customs brokerage (at least not for free).

Air Courier

  • 150 lbs or less
  • $10/kg+
  • 2-5 Days

Normally quoted door to door. No custom broker needed (although courier will charge you if shipment is over $800).

Air Freight

  • 200-500 lbs
  • $5-7/kg
  • 2-10 Days + 1-5 Days for Custom clearance

Make sure shipment terms are FOB. Quoted port to port (not door to door). Expect $200-300 in documentation fees + $150-200 customs brokerage fees.

Sea Freight

  • 500+ lbs
  • < $1/kg
  • 14-35 Days + 1-5 Days for Custom clearance

Make sure shipment terms are FOB. Quoted port to port (not door to door). Expect $200-300 in documentation fees + $150-200 customs brokerage fees.

Air freight and sea freight are quite a bit more complicated than air courier the first time around. They are also much cheaper. Air freight is about half the cost of air courier and sea freight is about 10% the cost of air courier.

Sea freight is always quoted by volume whereas air shipments are quoted by weight, but a good rule of thumb is that sea freight works out to less than $1 per kg.

Related EcomCrew Reading

Shipment Terms

In international trade, there is something referred to as Incoterms. Popular incoterms include FOB and EXW.

EXW vs FOB

With FOB shipping terms, your supplier will pay for all the costs (including overland transportation in China) to get your shipment to the port and export fees. With EXW, you will pay for all of this. There is no difference in complexity but EXW will always cost you more than FOB (normally $300-500+ more).

The easiest thing to do is to always ask your supplier to quote you FOB terms.

Related EcomCrew Reading

Customs, Tariffs, and the Magic $800 De Minimis Value

In America, orders under $800 do not have any duties applied to them. This is called the de minimis value. Orders above this amount will be charged applicable duties.

Under $800

  • No duties
  • No formal entry required
  • No customs bond
  • No customs broker needed

$800-$2500

  • Has duties
  • No formal entry required
  • No customs bond
  • No customs broker needed

$2500 +

  • Has duties
  • Requires formal entry
  • Has customs bond
  • Customs broker generally needed

For orders under $2500, you will not need what they call a formal entry to import the goods into the United States. This means your shipping company will clear customs for you but they may charge you a fee for this.

For orders above $2500, you will need to file a formal entry and get a customs broker. We recommend PCBUSA.com. Fees vary but normally are $100-300 depending on the order size.

Once your goods are shipped and have arrived in your country, they need to clear customs into your country. If you shipped via air courier (UPS, DHL, etc.) then the shipping company will do this for you and give you a bill for it. All other shipments need a customs broker.

Getting Your Goods from China to Amazon FBA

Shipping goods from China to Amazon is relatively straight forward. However, a few things you need to be aware of:

  • Ensure your products are labeled correctly, including UPCs/FNSKUs and Carton Labels
  • Ensure all duties are paid before being delivered to Amazon
  • Be aware of multiple warehouses

You must make sure your items are labeled correctly before being delivered to Amazon. Ask your supplier to do this for you.

Also, you must ensure all duties are paid before arriving at Amazon. If your order is below $800 this should not be an issue. If your order is above $800 then ensure your shipment is shipped DDP (Duty Delivered Paid).

Also, Amazon may request your products to be shipped to multiple warehouses. This can complicate shipping.

Related Reading: Shipping Your Goods from China to Amazon FBA.

Conclusion

Do you have any questions about sourcing products, importing, or shipping your products? Feel free to comment below.

  • About The Author: Dave Bryant

    Dave Bryant has been importing from China for over 10 years and has started numerous product brands. He sold his multi-million dollar ecommerce business in 2016 and create another 7-figure business within 18 months. He's also a former Amazon warehouse employee of one week.

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36 Comments

  • CasMem
    January 8, 2018 Reply

    Hey guys, i have a situation that I am not qualified to make an experienced judgment on.

    I'm positioning a new product as an upscale brand, priced at the high end (similar to high-end competitors' price) but without their brand cachet.

    Recently I was thinking about providing more value to my customers and found a bundle item i could include that is pretty much a no-brainer. It's cheap for me to provide and my customers will get value out of it, so it's a win-win.

    The problem is that I have slight doubts about bundling more value into my "luxury" brand. I fear my customers will be getting mixed messages. Instead of thinking about the luxury item they are getting, they will start thinking about "value" if they see the bundle, and "value" is not the message luxury brands want to send (at least that's what my limited instinct tells me).

    If anyone can provide helpful insights I'd appreciate your thoughts. Thanks!

    • Dave Bryant
      January 8, 2018 Reply

      It depends what the item you're bundling. Coach bundles a carrying case and cleaning cloth with their sunglasses and it strengthens the brand. It's hard to judge without knowing the exact item but IMO if it's an immediate accessory/add-on for the item it strengthens it. I think it's pretty hard to weaken a brand by bundling including an add-on or accessory.

  • Mark
    January 9, 2018 Reply

    Hi Mike & Dave, what's your take on finding a supplier/ordering wholesale from 1688? Recommend any agents to bypass the payment/shipping restrictions? Thanks a bunch and keep up the great work!

    • Dave Bryant
      January 9, 2018 Reply

      Hi Mark,

      I've never used it personally but I know Chinese companies basically use it exclusively when sourcing any products (largely B2B). You could always ask a current Supplier to buy or you - most are surprisingly happy to help in situations like this if you're a good client.

  • Jamie
    January 19, 2018 Reply

    Hi Dave, great summary of the process! Really take the point about quality fade. Something to be very vigilant on.

    I'm off to Hong Kong for a couple of trade fairs in April. I think you guys recommend to make sure you have some products in mind before getting there yes? Otherwise it can be overwhelming. Do you ever just find some products - or even suppliers - at these things that just hit the mark on the day? They're the smaller of the shows... Houseware Fair and maybe Global Sources, though I'm told the latter is a bit lacklustre.
    Cheers.

    • Dave Bryant
      January 31, 2018 Reply

      It's very difficult to find products on the fly but I always go to find Suppliers on the fly (although sometimes I have a 'hit list' of Suppliers I want to see). Everything looks good in the moment and you really need to do some product research before hand.

  • Vlad
    January 15, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave,

    Awesome post, very informative!

    In regards to getting inspections done, do you get an inspection done for every single Purchase Order?

    Thank you,
    Vlad!

    • Dave Bryant
      January 15, 2019 Reply

      Hi Vlad,
      I normally try to get 30-50% of shipments inspected. Anything over $30,000 I almost always get inspected though.

  • Trade Lynx
    January 17, 2019 Reply

    Dave, awesome post

    • Dave Bryant
      January 19, 2019 Reply

      Thanks again!

  • Justin
    January 24, 2019 Reply

    I think your program and podcasts are awesome, looking forward to working with you guys

    • Dave Bryant
      January 30, 2019 Reply

      Thanks Justin!

  • Michael
    January 24, 2019 Reply

    Dave have you ever used a sourcing agent to help you find suppliers that can do more customized work?

    • Dave Bryant
      January 30, 2019 Reply

      Hi Michael, Yes Mike and I have both used them to a certain degree although they typically only deal with larger orders.

  • Zuleehat
    February 8, 2019 Reply

    Beautiful write up Dave.

    • Dave Bryant
      February 8, 2019 Reply

      Thank you!

  • Ahmet Cem Çetinkaya
    March 3, 2019 Reply

    Hello, I found your website very useful and appreciate the whole information given. Currently I am living in China and it's been 3 years now. I have been trying to get a hold on this international trading business but may need some guidance. I speak English, Chinese and Turkish fluently and have some background in the business. I was thinking about buying some quality products here, since I am in china and speak the language getting them wont be a problem for me, and ship them to AMAZON warehouse but not quite sure if I am able to do that since I am not a US Citizen and have never been to US. What would you suggest me to do in my case? I am open to all kind of suggestions. Thanks (I will try work and travel next summer and may find a way to start Amazon)

    • Dave Bryant
      March 7, 2019 Reply

      Amazing language abilities!! 3 of those most important language families in the world. Check out this article here: https://www.ecomcrew.com/how-non-americans-can-sell-in-america-including-amazon-com-fba/. You don't need to be a U.S. citizen (and I'm not in fact).

  • Melissa Block
    March 5, 2019 Reply

    Hi! I’m confused about the $2500.
    Question1: If I purchase a large spa tub for under $2500 can I just have it shipped to Houston port and then bypass customs and simply pick it up myself when it arrives?
    Question 2: Also, if I’m purchasing a large spa tub for a total of 2400 and shipping will be 375 to the Houston port. Since I’m paying $2400 for the tub will the shipping push it above the $2500 or is only the item price considered?

    Any help you can give me would be great thank you!

    • Dave Bryant
      March 7, 2019 Reply

      1) Under $800 you'll bypass customs. Under $2500 you'll still need customs clearance/pay applicable duties but you forego some other formalities.
      2) It can depend but normally it doesn't count towards it.

      • Adrian
        June 21, 2019 Reply

        Hi
        There are any accumulative account? , i mean, I buy a product and import it via DHL at a cost of 400 uds, in the next month make other 400 usd purchase and so on, there are a cuantity were a need to pay taxes? thanks

        • Dave Bryant
          June 25, 2019 Reply

          No, it's a per day limit.

  • Dan Riley
    March 24, 2019 Reply

    Hi Guys,
    I have ordered samples from China that will be here next week. As long as the quality is good, we plan on using the samples as giveaways during our ClickFunnel month long contest. The contest will take a month, in which time we know if we should make a full order. Is there a way I can make the turn around time of contest to selling on Amazon? Or is it normal business to have to wait for the contest and the 40ish days to receive product to sell?

    • Dave Bryant
      March 26, 2019 Reply

      Unfortunately it's normal and hard to shorten that time :(

  • Dan Riley
    March 30, 2019 Reply

    I appreciate the comment, Dave. Love the podcast. Thanks for being a great resource.

    • Dave Bryant
      April 5, 2019 Reply

      Thanks Dan!

  • Tina F.
    April 19, 2019 Reply

    My company is based in US, while we work with a separate company in China (I’ll refer to as our partner). We purchase our supplies from our China partners and then we sell to our customers here in US. Our partners in China perform our factory audits as well as negotiations.

    We shipped FOB and used our customers freight forwarder, so they are considered the “importers of record”. We were informed that we had to submit the original commercial invoice from our partners in China (pricing we paid) to clear US Customs. The tariff taxes/duties would be calculated from that pricing and charged to our customer (importer of record).
    *** Problem is - this allows our customer to know our costs which is not what we want.
    *** Why can’t we submit our customers commercial invoice to US Customs - which reflects the price they paid to us?

    Any guidance/advice you are able to share would be greatly valued.

    • Dave Bryant
      April 30, 2019 Reply

      Hi Tina, I'm not sure the exact law, but I believe the price has to be that of the exporter. Also, your partner will not want a higher price shown as they'll pay export fees on those higher prices. Better to clear goods yourself into America if possible.

  • LI YONG
    April 25, 2019 Reply

    Thanks for great sharing. Almost covers all the pro and cons by importing from China, and the comment on the Chinese factory is fair. I am Chinese-Canadian and currently lived in China, be specify JinJiang, Fujian (where the large amount of shoes and clothing companies run). I know the local industry well, and now running a shoes company and a trading company.So if anyone interests in this field or needs helping feel free to contact me. I can physically present in factory and manage everything on producing side.

  • Jon
    May 29, 2019 Reply

    Regarding your advice “Order several samples and try selling them on Amazon before committing to a larger order.”

    What criteria have you used as “proof of concept”? Number of units sold etc. Also, if it’s successful do you sell your mass produced product on the same or different amazon listing? My concern would be lack of sales velocity in the period from test product to mass produced product.

    Any help appreciated. Thanks!

    • Dave Bryant
      June 10, 2019 Reply

      Normally I want to see somewhere in a pro-rated $5000/month rate. Varies by product though. Yes, normally I sell on the same listing that listing gets reviews. If no reviews then I'll relaunch on a new ASIN.

  • ArgnitVranovci
    July 27, 2019 Reply

    Very helpful

  • Tal
    September 1, 2019 Reply

    Thank you for that informative post.
    Ian new to the importing world and about to launch my food start up. I have a supplier which I found on Alibaba ( got samples and quality control) his price if FOB. My question is more about the next step.... my product is glass jars food grade in costs of about $6k.
    How can I calculate the whole!!! Expenses other than paying him? What exactly am I looking for ? Should I consider using one service for all the next steps?( (getting it to the factory.) or should I use few providers. Hope I was able to explain myself. Thank you in advance.

    • Dave Bryant
      September 3, 2019 Reply

      Hi Tal - Check out this: https://www.ecomcrew.com/amazon-selling-fees/

  • Sean Hennessy
    September 26, 2019 Reply

    Hi. Great advice. We are looking to import a product for 1 client in large quantities. In my initial inquiries prices seem really good, but now other charges are showing up. They are saying we will need a container, is that something we need to buy, or is there a usage fee? Also, there is now talk of tariffs, how can I find out if our product will be subject to Chinese export tariffs? So far I don't find the material listed on the US tariff lists that I've seen. Is there a good resource for getting this info?
    Thank you.

    • Dave Bryant
      October 3, 2019 Reply

      Your freight forwarder will arrange the container for you. Check out https://www.ecomcrew.com/trumps-china-tariffs/

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