A new campaign has been launched to help overcome resistance to a marking scheme that would indicate the country of origin for certain products imported into the EU, including clothing and footwear.

The campaign is aimed at consumer organisations in Europe, and has been introduced by the European Trade Union Federation of the Textiles, Clothing and Leather sector (ETUF:TCL), which brings together 65 national federations from 36 countries.

It follows proposals put forward in December 2005 by the European Commission for a compulsory origin marking scheme covering products including textiles and textile articles, leather and footwear imported from third countries.

The arguement is that such a mark would help consumers to buy in a socially and environmentally responsible way, as well as helping reduce "misleading and/or fraudulent origin marks being carried by imported products."

The 'third countries' defined in the proposal are all countries except the 25 EU Member States, the candidate countries Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, and the EFTA-countries Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

However, at European Council level, the proposal is presently blocked by a minority of seven EU Member States: UK, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, and Belgium.

Speaking at a press meeting in Brussels, ETUF:TCL said it has the support of Euratex (the European Apparel & Textile Organisation) and other organisations.

Stéphanie Le Berre, of the Legal and Social Affairs department at Euratex, declared that 'reciprocity' was an important issue for EU manufacturers.

The EU's main trading partners, such as China, the USA, Canada and Japan, already impose origin marking on imported goods, whilst exporters from these countries - along with the major importers and distributors based in Europe - are not subject to such a rule.

The Commission's proposal will thus put the EU on a level footing with these trade partners Mrs Le Berre said. She also believes origin marking can play a useful role in the battle against counterfeiting.

Valeria Fedeli, president of ETUF-TCL, stressed that origin marking would provide consumers with some initial information on the origin of the products they purchase.

She referred to a recent EU survey that found 76.5% of consumers felt they have been misled by country of origin information.

Opponents of origin marking point to the cost of the operation and say consumers don't care about product origin. There is also the unavoidable allegation of 'protectionism.'

Southern European clothing manufacturers also want the Maghreb countries be excluded from compulsory origin marking.  

By Jozef de Coster.