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Country of origin uncertainty hits UK textile exports

Confusion over a product’s original country of manufacture is hampering exports of textiles and electronic scrap from the UK to the EU, say British traders who also argue it is disincentive for a circular economy.

Under the Brexit trade deal hammered out at the last minute in December, products from the UK can be exported tariff-free to the EU if the UK is the country of origin. Indeed, say UK exporters, there is a clause that specifies that waste produced in the UK and exported for reuse and recycling will be zero rated. If a customs authority refuses to accept such shipments ‘originate’ in the UK, they would seek to impose a levy of 5.3%.

Alan Wheeler, director of the national Textile Recycling Association (TRA), reports cases where customs officials in importing countries are not accepting that used clothing from the UK is covered in this way. E-scrap exporters are said to be having similar experiences. Wheeler explains that, while new clothing may come from China or Bangladesh, when it becomes used it is officially recognised as having originated in the UK.

‘When that used clothing is exported between the UK an the EU, it must be done so using a specific product code for worn clothing and worn textile items (6309). ‘In the case of the EU-UK trade deal, second-hand used clothing/textile products coming from the UK must have the UK declared as the country of origin. To do otherwise would be legally incorrect.’

A wider implications for a circular economy is being spelled out by Mark Burrows-Smith, group chairman and chief executive of the Textile Recycling International group that owns five major textile concerns: JMP Wilcox, Nathans Wastesavers, SWD Clothing, BIU Group and Cookstown Textile Recyclers.

He told Recycling International the industry had undertaken much preparation over ‘country of origin’ while talks were underway. He said it was the same principle that applies in the car industry and allows manufacturers to say their vehicles are UK products even though a substantial proportion may have been imported.

‘Textiles have one of the biggest environmental impacts and Government agencies need to understand that having used and pre-loved goods circulating within the economy is a totemic policy of the EU. Applying tariffs arbitrarily is a disincentive for the circular economy.’

Burrows-Smith said the answer was for UK and EU authorities to reaffirm that product code 6309 for the export of used clothing and textile recognises country of origin and therefore permits goods to be traded tariff-free.

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