Country of Origin- Labelling Requirements for Textile Goods
Embattled local clothing and textile manufacturers have received a measure of support through the enactment of new labelling requirements aimed at discouraging the importation of cheap textile goods. The new regulations were promulgated in the Government Gazette (No. 29480 of 14 December 2006, as Notice 1831 of 2006) and came into force on 14 April 2007, having been made in terms of the Merchandise Marks Act, No. 17 of 1941.
The term "textile goods" has been given a wide definition, with the requirements applying not only to textiles but also clothing, shoes and leather goods (as provided for in the Harmonized System Tariff).
In terms of the regulations, the importation into or sale in South Africa of textile goods is prohibited unless they are marked or labelled in a manner that is clearly visible and easy to read. The country in which the item was made or produced must also be indicated. Locally manufactured products using imported material must be marked as being "made in South Africa from imported materials". If a South African manufacturer uses imported greige (undyed or unfinished) fabric to produce dyed, printed or finished fabric in South Africa, the fabric must be marked or labelled to indicate that it has been dyed, printed or finished in South Africa from imported fabric.
The regulations also require textile goods to conform to South African national standards regarding fibre-content and care labelling. One such standard is, for example, SANS 10235:2007 (SABS 0235) for the fibre-content labelling of textiles and textile products, which specifies various methods for designating the fibre-content of textiles and textile products and for applying this information to made-up products, piece-goods and yarns.
If textile goods have been reconditioned, rebuilt or remade they must be labelled as such, in a clearly visible and easily read manner.
Finally, if a textile product is manufactured in South Africa from imported fabric, it will not be permissible to label it as having been "made in South Africa".
At this stage enforcement appears to be focused more on promoting awareness than penalising or prosecuting persons contravening the new labelling regulations. Textile goods which do not comply with the regulations are being detained by officials of the South African Revenue Service and customs. Detention notices are then sent to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) containing details of the importer or seller as well as the bill of entry number for the consignment of goods in question.
It has been confirmed that DTI records the details of the importer or seller and that the goods appear to be in breach of the labelling requirements. Thereafter, DTI issues a release notice to the relevant authorities, requesting them to bring the new labelling requirements to the importer or seller’s attention. The authorities are also required to obtain all contact details of the importer or seller before the textile goods are released, in order to facilitate visits from DTI in future.
This procedure has already been implemented and will most probably be followed for at least the first 12 months from the effective date of the regulations, i.e. until at least around April 2008. It is not yet clear how strictly the authorities will enforce the regulations thereafter. One may, however, assume that they will rely on the full force of the empowering legislation and that the penalties provided for by the Merchandise Marks Act will be imposed.
A contravention of the Merchandise Marks Act constitutes a criminal offence, and the penalties that may be imposed include a fine not exceeding R5 000 for each article to which the offence relates or imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years, or both a fine and imprisonment. In the case of a second or any subsequent conviction, an offender will be liable to a fine not exceeding R10000 per article or imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both a fine and imprisonment. In addition, a court convicting an offender may order the confiscation of all or any part of the goods in respect of which the offence was committed. The confiscated goods may be disposed of as directed by the Minister of Trade and Industry.
There can be no doubt that Customs and Revenue authorities are already enforcing the new labelling requirements and that strict penalties are likely to be imposed in future. In the meantime the trade would be well advised to take cognisance of the new labelling requirements and implement them accordingly.