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Clothing and Other Textile Articles Scrutinised with a View to Outlawing Nearly 300 Hazardous Substances

On 22 October 2015, the European Commission launched a public consultation, with the aim of a possible future restriction of 291 chemical substances that are believed to be hazardous, in clothing and other textile articles. The consultation is open until 22 January 2016, as part of a simplified procedure to introduce restrictions under the REACH Regulation.

Hong Kong’s sellers may already know that, by means of the REACH Regulation and its Annex XVII in particular, the EU imposes stringent restrictions on hazardous chemicals in several commonly used consumer goods including toys, clothing, footwear, leather products and articles made of plastic. The substances thus far restricted in goods under REACH include phthalates, azodyes, cadmium, nickel, mercury and lead, among dozens of others.

The standard restriction procedure, which the EU applies in order to put such restrictions in place, requires the preparation of a detailed Annex XV dossier by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) or a Member State, public consultations, opinions from two different ECHA committees, and eventually a decision by the European Commission.

However, there is a simplified procedure available to the European Commission, under Article 68(2) of the REACH Regulation. This concerns a substance classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction (CMR) of category 1A or 1B on its own, in a mixture or in an article that may be used by consumers. CMR categories 1A and 1B are deemed to be the more severe CMR categories. In the case of such substances, the Commission may propose and adopt restrictions without the application of the standard procedure outlined above.

Hong Kong companies should be advised that the Commission intends to use the simplified restriction procedure to target specific categories of consumer articles, with the aim of restricting CMR substances in those articles. In this overall framework, textile articles and clothing have been selected as a first ‘test-case’. This is due to the likelihood of a prolonged or multiple short-term exposure of consumers to CMR substances that are potentially present in those articles.

The possible future restrictions aim to cover the following articles intended for consumer use: articles that consist of at least 80% of textile fibres by weight, or articles that contain a part that consists of at least 80% of textile fibres by weight. This covers raw, unfinished, semi-finished and finished goods, whether or not coated or laminated, including articles such as clothing, footwear, accessories, interior textiles, fibres, yarn, fabrics and knitted panels.

More concrete examples of articles intended to be covered include underwear, nightwear, swimwear, garments, scarfs, ties, handkerchiefs, hats, gloves, socks, and certain footwear, as well as interior hangings and curtains, carpets and other floor coverings, table mats, table cloths, towels, bed linen and pillow cases. Articles excluded from the possible restrictions comprise footwear, clothing or their parts and accessories made of real leather; footwear, clothing or their parts and accessories made of natural furs or hides; and toys.

Eventually and once the procedure has been concluded, the list of CMR substances to be restricted (either as individual substances or groups) will be added to a specific appendix to the current Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation. It could, thereafter, be regularly updated as and when required.

The Commission has, therefore, with the assistance of ECHA and Member State experts, come up with preliminary lists of CMR substances (category 1A or 1B) that are understood, at least potentially, to be present in textile articles and clothing for consumer use. These preliminary lists can be found in the questionnaire (via the link to the consultation notice below). It is therefore felt to be relevant to hold a public consultation in order to evaluate the proportionality and the enforceability of possible future restrictions in this area.

Companies wishing to participate in the consultation should be aware of its main objectives, namely, to collect information on the presence or possible presence of the identified CMR substances in the consumer articles concerned, and the potential socio-economic impacts of any future restrictions. Other objectives include the enforceability of possible restrictions, and the gathering of information on the substance concentrations being used, their function and the availability of alternatives.

The Commission’s notice invites comments from all citizens and organisations, and in particular seeks information from legal entities that are potentially concerned with the proposed restrictions. Traders concerned with the marketing of goods made of textiles in any of the EU Member States should seriously consider providing their views to the Commission, so as to influence the outcome as best they can.

In order to submit contributions, individuals and companies are invited to complete a questionnaire. The questionnaire, as well as the email address for submitting queries, can be found towards the end of the Commission’s consultation notice.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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