24 Sept 2010
Council of EU Member States fails to support compulsory “Made in” labels for textiles
On 13 September 2010, the EU Council adopted a political agreement on the draft regulation concerning the labelling of textile products, although without Italy’s backing.
Italy voted against the agreement, because a provision obliging manufacturers to indicate the country of origin on textile labelling was not included in the Council text. The European Parliament and the European Commission have supported the inclusion of such a provision.
Hong Kong sellers may recall that on 18 May 2010, the European Parliament had adopted a legislative resolution on a technical proposal from the Commission on textile names and related labelling of textile products. The new proposed Regulation, which aims to replace Directives 73/44/EC, 96/73/EC and 96/74/EC, is intended to simplify the EU’s regulatory framework on the development and use of textile products.
However, the European Parliament also took the opportunity to propose clearer rules on origin marking.
Currently, “made in” labelling for textiles is voluntary, but in practice it depends on national laws. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have argued that the EU should align itself with the situation in different countries where country of origin labelling is more strictly regulated, such as in mainland China, the US and Japan, by making origin labelling compulsory.
In consequence, the European Parliament proposed conditions and rules for how origin labelling should be determined and how such labelling should be affixed. The Parliament also set out detailed requirements for determining the indication of origin for textile products imported from third countries, with reference to rules on non-preferential origin, as set out in the Community Customs Code (Regulation 450/2008) which provides that:
- Goods wholly obtained in a single country or territory shall be regarded as having their origin in that country or territory;
- Goods the production of which involved more than one country or territory shall be deemed to originate in the country or territory where they underwent their last substantial transformation.
Interestingly for Hong Kong traders, the Member States (except for Italy) rejected the European Parliament’s amendments and adopted a text similar to the Commission’s initial technical proposal, thus maintaining the divergence of origin labelling rules between the EU and its trade partners. Most importantly, they failed to include the proposal that it should become compulsory to label textiles with the country of origin.
In a press release of 13 September 2010, the Council stated that the future Regulation should contain provisions to improve the system in order to:
- further harmonise the names of textile fibres and the indications appearing on labels, markings and documents which accompany textile products at the various stages of their production, processing and distribution, and;
- ensure that correct information is made available to consumers in the EU.
The Council-adopted text will now be forwarded to the European Parliament for a second reading. The European Parliament may continue to insist on origin labelling in which case adoption of the final text may be delayed, while the institutions battle it out.
Hong Kong businesses should, however, be aware that the European Parliament, apart from proposing amendments to the Commission’s proposal, also asked that the Commission submit a report regarding possible new EU labelling requirements. The report should, the Parliament demanded, be based on stakeholder consultations and be accompanied by legislative proposals where appropriate. Hong Kong’s textile and clothing traders should therefore keep an eye out for the following labelling issues, which will be dealt with in the requested report and which could potentially be the subject of future legislation:
- A harmonised care labelling system (this is currently voluntary);
- An EU-wide uniform size labelling system for clothing and footwear;
- An indication of any potentially allergenic or hazardous substance used in the manufacture or processing of textile products;
- Ecological labelling relating to the environmental performance and sustainable production of textile products;
- Social labelling to inform consumers about the social conditions under which a textile product was produced;
- Warning labels with regard to the flammability performance of textile products, in particular high fire-hazard clothing;
- Electronic labelling, including Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID);
- The inclusion of an identification number on the label which can be used to obtain additional on-demand information about the product, for instance via the internet;
- The use of language-independent symbols for identifying the fibres used for the manufacture of a textile product, enabling the consumer to easily understand its composition (and, in particular, whether the fibres used are natural or synthetic).
The Parliament also asked that the Commission, two years after the draft Regulation has been approved and entered into force, carry out a study which will assess whether substances used in the production or processing of textile products represent a hazard to human health. The Parliament’s intention with the study is to evaluate whether there is a causal link between allergic reactions and synthetic fibres, colourings, biocides, preservatives or nanoparticles used in textile products. Any such study could potentially lead to further legislative proposals, and the possible ban on or restriction of the use of certain substances in textile products.