WASHINGTON — U.S. and European fashion industry associations are pressing negotiators meeting in Miami this week on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement to streamline, simplify or eliminate duplicative and burdensome labeling and product safety requirements.
In a joint position paper made public on Tuesday, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, U.S. Fashion Industry Association and European Branded Clothing Alliance outlined several areas where they are seeking more harmonization. The groups have shared their position paper with U.S. and European negotiators.
The associations stated in the paper that brands and retailers use regional and centralized distribution centers in the EU and U.S. for more efficient distribution. A product is labeled during manufacturing, then held in inventory in the distribution centers until orders are placed, they said.
“It is not known where a product will need to go until the orders are placed. The product therefore must be ready to sell in any country which orders, including with respect to labeling and languages.”
They also noted that companies must be able to transfer products between regions as market conditions dictate, but oftentimes differences in U.S. and EU regulations or labeling requirements become burdensome and costly.
“If a product is not selling well in Europe, it should be possible to transfer that product to the U.S. and vice-versa ensuring that the product finds the best market. The product therefore must be ready to sell in either jurisdiction including with respect to labeling and languages.
“TTIP should seek to enable efficient cross-regional trade by simplifying labeling requirements and languages, thereby reducing label length, waste, cost and consumer confusion resulting from excessive amounts of information,” they noted.
The groups outlined several areas where regulatory differences between the U.S. and EU force brands and retailers on both sides of the Atlantic to do additional testing on products on the product safety side. On the labeling side, regulatory differences require companies to provide labels in several languages or meet different requirements ranging from care symbols to animal origin disclosures to chemical disclosures and warnings.
“[The U.S. and EU] often have very similar regulatory goals but different approaches, different standards, different testing methods,” said Stephen Lamar, executive vice president at the AAFA, in an interview. “What that does is create a lot of cost. If you can create a common platform between the U.S. and EU on a range of product safety and labeling issues that is a single, joint regulatory approach, that becomes a powerful example for the rest of the world to follow and adhere to.”
One example cited in the position paper was the issue of having different systems for care symbols on labels. The U.S. does not recognize a certain set of international care symbols used in the EU, which forces brands and retailers to use two sets of care symbols on inter-regional labels.
“Such harmonization between the two major economic blocks will demonstrate leadership and potentially encourage other jurisdictions in Asia which maintain their own care symbols to gravitate around the same set of care symbols used in the U.S. and EU,” they stated.
The associations also pointed to language differences, particularly with Europe using 27 languages, which “causes very long labels which are difficult for consumers to read and wasteful.”
Chemical disclosures and warnings are also an area the groups would like to see streamlined. The EU is considering implementing the disclosure of allergens on labels, for example, which creates more burdensome labeling requirements.
There are also differences in the area of product safety. For example, certain types of hats and gloves are exempt from flammability testing in the U.S. but must still be tested in Europe.
The three groups are pressing for broader acceptance of conformity assessment bodies and moving toward a single international standard test method.
“You can’t underestimate the ability of this to really make things easier for a lot of stakeholders in apparel and footwear, ranging from brands to consumers,” Lamar said. “A common regulatory approach reduces costs because companies do not have to test [products] over and over to achieve the same goal. A common regulatory approach also brings benefits for consumers. They don’t get confused by seeing something [on a label] in one country and something [different] in another country.”