European retailers and importers have reacted angrily after the European Parliament on Thursday (21 October) voted to approve new EU laws that would require a range of products – including imported clothing and footwear – to be labelled with their country of origin.

“This is a purely protectionist measure,” believes Jan Eggert, secretary general of the Foreign Trade Association (FTA). “This compulsory declaration of origin only serves the interests of a minority of south European manufacturers seeking to improve their competitiveness.”

However, supporters of the move – which was lobbied for by Italian textile and shoe manufacturers – claim it would help consumers make informed choices and help guard against “health risks, counterfeiting and unfair competition.”

MEPs also believe that disparities between labelling practices within the EU mean third countries shift their exports towards particular European points of entry which suit them most.

But “consumer protection” cannot explain why textiles and shoes should require an origin marking, “while other consumer goods such as toys, electronic devices, household appliances or sports goods do not,” Eggert argues.

The actual use of declarations of origin is also seen as questionable. For example, a shoe may be labelled as ‘Made in Italy’ even if its sole is produced in Albania and its upper parts are made in India, so long as the components are combined mechanically in Italy. This is arguably even more a deceptive to consumers.

Compulsory origin labelling entails additional costs to producers and retailers too. And controls to prevent misuse and false labelling would cause additional costs and place a higher administrative burden on firms.

Parliament wants the country of origin to be indicated in English on labels of goods sold anywhere in the EU. It would also like to see harmonised penalties for breaching the rules.

The proposed new rules will apply only to goods destined for consumers but not to products from the European Union, Turkey, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein.

The draft law still needs to be approved by the Council, where some member states are still opposed to the idea of a European ‘made in’ law.

“The new legislation is protectionist, unnecessary and creates additional costs and administrative burdens, which will be passed on to consumers,” Eggert says, adding his group will now urge member states “to apply a vigorous scrutiny to this legislation.”