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US and European Apparel Companies Want Harmonized Rules Under TTIP

As the U.S. and the EU work out their future trade relationship under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) apparel companies from both places are trying to work out simplified labeling rules they say will enable efficient cross-regional trade.

Because retail today demands the use of centralized distribution centers so that product can get to consumers anywhere at any time, products have to be ready to sell in any country, which means labeling and languages must be all accommodating.

In a joint position paper, the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) and the European Branded Clothing Alliance (EBCA) wrote, “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.”

Further, “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 wrote.

The apparel organizations outlined specific issues they are seeking to simplify, including care symbols. The U.S. doesn’t recognize certain care labels the EU uses, which means intra-regional products have to have two sets of care symbols and some care labels come with supporting verbiage for the symbols and others don’t. The goal under TTIP would be to get all of these symbols aligned.

“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,” the paper noted.

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Material content has also been a problem since the U.S. and EU each have their own ways of naming fibers and though many of the fiber names are similar, the few that aren’t cause confusion—these should also be harmonized, according to the groups.

When it comes to languages, for products to be shippable anywhere in the U.S. or EU, care info has to come in 27 languages, making for over-long labels that are hard for consumers to read and are wasteful as more often than not, the labels get cut out.

“To enable the free trade and transfer of products within and between regions, it would be helpful to reduce the number of languages using risk-based criteria and language demographics to arrive at a reasonable set languages that the majority of citizens in the U.S. and EU will understand either as a first, second, or third language,” the paper noted.

Apparel companies are also looking for product safety and consumer protection regulations to be harmonized under TTIP so that duplicative testing stops happening and there’s one international standard test method.

At Sourcing Journal’s Summit in New York last week, Steve Lamar, AAFA executive vice president said the TTIP’s potential to create harmonized labeling and product safety is part of what makes the agreement really interesting.

Getting the U.S. and EU to agree on the host of differences, however, Lamar said is “not an easy job because we haven’t even harmonized the spelling of the word harmonized.”