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Visualising a greener HS in support of sustainable textiles as a result of the interaction between textiles and the environment

23 noviembre 2022

The third symposium in the WCO Symposia Series, “Visualising a greener HS to support environmentally sustainable trade”, supported by the European Union, was held on 8 November 2022. The symposium, held under the theme “The textile industry: the interaction between textiles and the environment”, addressed the role of the Harmonized System (HS) in the identification at the borders of significant goods of the textile sector in terms of environmental policy.

The symposium was attended by a broad range of HS users, including representatives of the international and regional institutions, the private sector, civil society associations and Customs administrations, who discussed needs and ideas in this area.

In his opening address, Mr. Konstantinos Kaiopoulos, Director of the Tariff and Trade Affairs (TTA) Directorate at the World Customs Organization (WCO), stated that the WCO textile symposium was a forum for constructive debate, the main objective being to share ideas and experiences on making the Harmonized System greener and further enhancing its support for the sustainability and protection of the environment.

He added that certain textiles had a detrimental impact on the environment in terms of water consumption and pollution, the use of pesticides, CO2 emissions and the volume of textile waste. However, the Customs identification of textiles that are environmentally friendly and those that are not was a delicate task requiring serious thought about the possible role that the HS could play in such a process.

Acting as moderator for this Panel Discussion, Ms. Gael Grooby, Deputy Director of Tariff and Trade Affairs at the WCO, presented the general background to the theme of the symposium. By way of introduction, she gave an overview of the important role of the HS in implementing many green policies at the border, including the global policies governed by the United Nations Environment Programme. She commented that the involvement of the Customs administrations, stakeholders and users of the HS in the third symposium provided a further opportunity for the Harmonized System Committee (HSC) and the WCO Secretariat to establish the dialogue needed for developing the HS as a component in facilitating the trade in environmental products and thus contributing to sustainable development.

Under the heading “Advancing sustainability and circularity in the textile and leather industry through traceability and transparency of value chains”, the first speaker, Ms. Maria Teresa Pisani, Chief of the Trade Facilitation Section at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), shared with the participants UNECE’s commitment to enhancing the transparency and traceability of sustainable value chains in the clothing and footwear industry. She pointed out that, “with access to reliable and verifiable information, we all have the right to adopt measures to promote a more circular and less wasteful economy”. Each and every actor and enabler of the value chains has a role to play in achieving those measures.

Citing examples of the use of blockchain technology, Ms. Pisani underlined the importance of creating subdivisions in the HS in respect of raw materials and clothing made as a result of the recycling loop.

The second presentation, under the heading “Building a sustainable and competitive textile industry” was given by Mr. Dirk Vantyghem, Director General of the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (EURATEX). In his presentation, Mr. Vantyghem focused in particular on the efforts made by the textiles sector to ensure the effective management of natural resources and on the EU Strategy in this area. He called upon the participants to give further serious thought to the approach that should be adopted by the HS in order to reflect the industrial trends and to stimulate trade in environmentally friendly products.

In his presentation entitled “Environmental impacts from textiles’ consumption in Europe and the EU Strategy on Sustainable and Circular Textiles”, Mr. Lars Fogh Mortensen, a Circular Economy, Consumption and Production Expert at the European Environment Agency (EEA), outlined the distinct position of textiles in terms of the consumption of natural resources and their impact on the environment and climate change. Furthermore, the speaker gave an overview of the volume of EU exports of used textiles and the usefulness of having more detailed and specific codifications for this type of goods.

The fourth address was given by Ms. Catherine Chevauché, Chairperson of ISO Technical Committee 323, on the theme of “International standardization activities in the circular economy”. Pointing to the innovative activities of ISO Technical Committee 323 on the circular economy, Ms. Chevauché focused on the importance of standardizing that concept, ultimately assisting the economic actors to follow the same path and achieve conclusive results. She went on to present the package of associated activities contained in the various ISO standards which facilitate implementation of the concept of the circular economy. During this session, Ms. Chevauché communicated the Terminology, Principles and Guidance for Implementation of this concept.

Through his presentation entitled “The relevance of the HS for a transparent and green textile supply chain”, Dr. Christian P. Schindler, Director General of the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF), first gave an account of the reality of the sector, the difference between the linear and circular economy, and the rise in the consumption of fibre textiles, before imparting information on the drive towards sustainable development by brands and retailers and highlighting the importance of including in the HS the technological innovations and equipment used in this drive, such as certain raw materials produced through recycling, recycling machines or even products with a large carbon footprint.

Ms. Valérie Boiten, Senior Policy Officer at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, closed the individual presentations with a speech on “Designing for a circular textiles’ economy”. Ms. Boiten made an enlightening presentation using a practical case study on the application of the circular economy in the manufacturing of jeans. She  explained further what went into making jeans sustainable in terms of their recycled and recyclable inputs, processes and use.

The participants raised practical concerns capable of driving future discussion in connection with the HS review cycle. The questions centred around the difficulty of classifying textile waste and worn clothing or other worn textile articles, the appropriateness of current methods for certifying environmentally friendly textile products and the possibility of adopting respect for the environment or sustainability as a criterion for identifying textile products.

In her closing remarks, Ms. Gael Grooby noted that the views shared during the symposium strengthened the visibility of the needs to adapt the Harmonized System provisions regarding the identification of textiles to take into account environmental factors and policy needs.  She noted that the information on the progress achieved by the textile industry in this area could be a reassuring starting point in terms of making reasonable proposals for identifying textile products from a circular economy perspective and invited all those attending the symposium to use this information to assist in looking at the approaches that could be adopted with a view to creating a greener HS.  She noted that the WCO Secretariat would also report the outcomes of the symposium to the HSC so that the WCO Members could examine them as part of the current and future review cycles.