The TTIP will potentially be the worlds biggest trade pact

The TTIP will potentially be the world's biggest trade pact

More details have emerged on the potential treatment of textiles in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), with officials from both the US and European Union (EU) confirming that talks so far have covered tariffs and greater convergence of regulatory approaches - but nothing yet on rules of origin.

Describing the fifth round of TTIP of discussions in Arlington, Virginia last week as "productive", negotiators said that while much work still remains to be done, "we are making steady progress."

Dan Mullaney, the chief US negotiator, and Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the chief EU negotiator, also confirmed during a briefing that there have been specific discussions on textiles.

"We have looked into tariffs," Bercero said, adding: "We have also looked into regulatory issues in the textiles sector, where there's also a lot of interest to see what can be done in a number of areas like labelling to see where we could have greater convergence of regulatory approaches. 

"The US has explained to us its ideas for a specific textile chapter. It's not something which is part of our model. We don't do that in our agreements. But we are certainly ready to hear and to reflect on what [the] US has put forward" - with the implication being that the EU is willing to consider a separate textile chapter.

Mullaney pointed out that the US has traditionally had a "separate chapter for textiles largely based on various specific enforcement-type issues."

But both executives said specific discussions on rules of origin are just beginning. "Apart from explaining to each other our respective rules on textiles, I don't think that conversation has gone beyond that," Bercero said.

Ahead of the talks, the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) sent a joint letter to US Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Froman urging that textile tariffs be eliminated in the TTIP.

The letter notes that reduction of tariffs will help foster 'Made in US' fashion by removing high duties currently being paid on fabric imported from Europe. The groups say New York based companies already pay around $30m a year in US textile tariffs from Europe, and estimates this rises to more than $100m when companies located in other parts of the US are included.

"Removal of these duties will significantly reduce costs to US apparel manufacturers, allowing them to hire more sewers and designers, invest in technology and capital improvements, and make US-made apparel more affordable."

The AAFA also called on negotiators for stronger EU-US cooperation in three main areas - labelling, product safety and chemical management - which are already among goals outlined by the EU in its own position papers.

As reported on just-style last week, labelling would include the mutual recognition of care instruction symbols and the alignment of names of new textile fibres, while product safety would cover working jointly to clarify the requirements for fabric fire safety.

Product safety would also include aligning the list of substances whose use in textiles is restricted, and the setting of technical standards for protective clothing and other specialist products.  

Meanwhile, the US-based National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) has made a formal stakeholder presentation calling for a yarn forward rule of origin, and the preservation of US government procurement regulations such as the Berry Amendment.

NCTO staff also met with the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (Euratex) on the respective groups' goals with regard to TTIP, as well as the potential to reach a joint US/EU textile industry position on specific TTIP issues.

TTIP is an effort to establish a free trade bloc between the US and the 28 member nations of the European Union, and potentially the world's biggest trade pact.

Apparel brands, retailers and importers highlight the strong links that already exist between New York and European fashion capitals, and argue that tariffs "act as a tax on US-made fashion."

The average EU tariff on apparel is 12% and the average US tariff on apparel is 15%, but can be considerably higher . French clothing and textile exporters – most of whom are small and medium sized firms – currently pay tariffs of over 30% and 40% respectively to put their products on sale in the US, Karel De Gucht, European Commissioner for Trade, pointed out last month. 

For US textile firms, however, the proposed pact presents "a unique set of opportunities and challenges.

"While the US and EU textile and apparel markets may be similar in market size and cost structure, the US trade deficit with the EU in those products totalled almost $3bn in 2013," they say.