Product requirements when importing clothing

If you have a business importing jeans, T-shirts, skirts, coats, or other clothing, it is important to know the relevant product requirements. Clothing sold in Europe is subject to European and national legislation. You should also pay close attention to the rules on parallel imports when importing branded products.

It makes a difference if you import clothing from EU countries or non-EU countries. The latter is usually more complicated, as you will have to declare the goods to customs and pay import duties. This article lists everything you need to know about importing clothes.

Product requirements

There is a European directive (2001/95/EC) for general product safety (in Dutch). All products entering the European market must be safe. Additional specific product requirements apply to clothing and textiles.

European regulation on textile products

The European Regulation on Textile Products (European Regulation No. 1007/2011) ensures that consumers know what textile fibres their clothes and other textile products are made of at the time of purchase. The regulation contains provisions on labelling and fibre names.

REACH

REACH is short for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and restriction of Chemicals, a European regulation that protects humans and the environment from the hazards posed by chemicals. The regulation bans or imposes maximum values for certain chemicals. Certain carcinogenic azo dyes, for example, may not be used in clothing and textile products.

REACH imposes responsibilities on:

  • Companies that import products from countries outside the EEA, referred to as importers in the REACH regulation.
  • Companies that import products from countries belonging to the EEA, referred to as distributors in the REACH regulation.

Biocides

Biocides contain active substances that control harmful organisms. Manufacturers may use biocides in textiles because of their disinfectant properties or as preservatives in leather, for example. Marketing biocides and products treated with biocides is subject to European legislation. Active substances in biocidal products require EU-level approval, and biocidal products themselves are subject to national or EU-level approval. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) provides information on regulations for biocides and articles treated with biocides. For any questions, contact the Treated articles helpdesk (in Dutch).

CE marking

Specific rules apply to protective clothing. Protective clothing sold in the EEA must have CE marking to indicate that the clothing meets certain minimum safety, health, and environmental requirements. Requirements for CE marking of protective clothing can be found in the European regulation on personal protective equipment (PPE).

Safety of children's clothing

Safety requirements for children’s clothing are laid down in European Product Standard EN 14682:2014. This standard specifies requirements for cords and drawstrings on children's clothing. You are not allowed to trade children’s clothing that does not meet this standard.

Endangered animal and plant species

CITES is short for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna. This is an agreement signed by 183 countries to prevent the extinction of endangered plant and animal species. CITES applies to clothing and other textile products that contain endangered plant and animal species. The commercial trade of some species of endangered animals and plants is banned altogether, while other species are subject to import restrictions.

Fur

Clothing placed on the EU market may not contain cat or dog fur and the use of seal products in clothing is also banned in the EU. With the exception of seal products sourced from traditional hunting by Inuit and other indigenous communities. Specific conditions do apply in this case.

Labelling

Labels in and on clothing and other textile products are subject to rules. The materials used in the product must be stated on the label and you may only use the names that appear in the list of textile fibre names (Annex 1 of European Regulation No. 1007/2011).

National requirements

EU countries may also impose their own national rules. The Netherlands, for instance, has specific rules on the use of formaldehyde in clothing and has special fire safety requirements. If you want to sell clothing within the EU, keep the national laws and regulations of the destination country in mind. To find out more about different member states and their requirements for your product, contact the Product Contact Point of the country in question.

More about product requirements

The following authorities provide more information on product requirements for clothing:

Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI)

CBI helps exporters from developing countries export goods to the European market. It publishes market information that can also be useful for Dutch importers. CBI has also published product requirements for clothing.

European Commission

Access2Markets contains information on product requirements and import procedures for products imported from outside the EU. This is how you find the right information:

  • In the 'Country from' field, select the country from which you are importing the clothing. In the ‘Country to' field, select the country in which you are importing the product (the Netherlands, for example).
  • Fill in the 'Product name or HS code' field. A HS code (Harmonised System code) is a commodity code used by customs worldwide to classify products. Every product has a different HS code. HS codes for clothing begin with 61 (knitted or crocheted clothing) or 62 (non-knitted or crocheted clothing). In the 'Product name or HS code' field, enter 61 (or 62) and click 'Search'.
  • You will now see a list of descriptions related to clothing. Click + to scroll down the list of commodities until you find a description that matches your product and the commodity code behind it.
  • Click on the commodity code for your product.
  • This will take you to the ‘Rates’ tab, where you will find the import duty rate for your product. For information on product requirements and import procedures, click on ‘import regulations' in the overview on the left.

Dutch government

The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) checks whether companies comply with the rules for clothing and textiles (in Dutch). The website Waarzitwatin from VeiligheidNL and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) provides information on chemicals used in consumer products, including clothing (in Dutch).

Modint

Modint, the sector organisation for manufacturers, wholesalers, and importers of clothing, supports its members in international business. Modint provides advice on product requirements, legal contracts, customs matters, and more.

Importing goods from other EU countries

There is free movement of goods in the EU, so you do not have to pay import duties when importing clothing from another member state. You do not have to declare the goods to customs either. Your foreign supplier will usually charge 0% VAT, provided that you pass on your VAT identification number. If you calculate 21% Dutch VAT (in Dutch) on the purchase and report it in your VAT return, you will usually be allowed to deduct it as input tax in the same return.

Importing goods from non-EU countries

When you import clothing from a non-EU country, you have to file an import declaration with Dutch Customs. Your carrier or customs broker will usually take care of this on your behalf for a fee, as well as advancing any import duties and VAT that may be due. You will also need an EORI number when dealing with Dutch Customs.

Import duties

If you import clothing from a non-EU country, you will usually have to pay import duties. Import duty rates are linked to the 10-digit TARIC code, or commodity code, of the garment you are importing. A TARIC code consists of a 6-digit HS code supplemented by a 4-digit affix. Import duty is linked to the customs value (in Dutch) of the product: the purchase price plus shipping and any insurance costs up to the border (or port) of entry into the EU. All import duty rates can be found in the Tariff Manual of Dutch Customs. Click on ‘nomenclature’, followed by 'Query by nomenclature'. You will find clothing in Section XI. Click on the folders to go to the 10-digit TARIC codes and import duty rates.

TARIC codes are mainly based on the type of garment and the material used. Clothing has a TARIC code beginning with 61 (knitted or crocheted clothing) or 62 (non-knitted or crocheted clothing). The import duty rate for clothing is usually 12%. The 10-digit TARIC code of used clothing (excluding rags) is 6309 00 00 00, while the import duty rate is 5.3%.

For help finding your imported product's TARIC code and import duty rate, call the Customs Information Line (in Dutch).

Import duty relief

In some cases, you may qualify for import duty relief. For instance, if you import new or used clothing straight from countries with which the EU has a trade agreement. To qualify, the clothing has to be of preferential origin from the treaty country, which you can demonstrate with a preferential certificate or declaration of origin, such as a EUR.1 certificateinvoice declaration, or Statement on Origin.  Which statement or declaration of origin you need depends on the treaty country.

The EU has a customs union with  Türkiye. As a result, you do not have to pay import duties on clothing of Turkish origin. Conversely, the EU does not have a trade agreement with China and the US, so you will usually have to pay the 12% import duty rate.

Check the Customs Tariff Manual to find out whether you qualify for tariff preference (reduced import duties) based on the 10-digit TARIC code of your product and the country from which you are importing. If you cannot figure it out yourself, call the Customs Information Line (in Dutch).

In addition to trade agreements, there are more mechanisms for import duty relief.

VAT when importing non-EU goods

When you import products into the Netherlands, you pay Dutch import VAT (21%). You are allowed to deduct this VAT as input tax in your VAT return if you are entitled to deduct VAT. If you regularly import goods from non-EU countries, you can apply for an article 23 permit (in Dutch) from the Dutch Tax Administration to avoid having to pay for VAT at the time of import. Instead, you can file the VAT with your VAT return.

Importing samples

Before you place a large order with a foreign supplier, you probably want to know if the clothing meets your quality requirements. To get this peace of mind, you can request samples. You do not have to pay import tax on samples imported from non-EU countries, provided the quantity and value of the samples are limited. Samples are not intended for sale and Customs may require clothing samples to be made unusable for sale. For example, by cutting or piercing them or by applying a clearly visible, indelible mark.

Standard steps of importing

Knowing the ins and outs of the import process will increase your odds of succeeding. The Standard steps of importing take you through the entire import process in 14 steps: from market research to closing the deal.

Product liability

Do you import clothing from non-EEA countries? Or do you buy clothing within the EEA, but use your own label or brand name? You then bear product liability for damages caused by a defect in the clothing. Legally speaking, you are considered the producer. So make sure that your product is fully compliant with all requirements and regulations. You can take out insurance against product liability.

Collection and recycling of clothing mandatory from July 2023

From July 2023, manufacturers and importers will be responsible for collecting and recycling discarded clothing on the Dutch market. Find out more about this amendment.

Parallel imports

Importing branded products outside official distribution channels is called parallel importation. Instead of purchasing the branded products from the official foreign manufacturer or official importer, you purchase them from a foreign broker. Want to import branded clothing via parallel import from countries outside the EEA? This is allowed only if you have permission from the trademark owner. The trademark owner – usually the official manufacturer – has the right to put a product on the EEA market first.

Once a product has been placed on the market for the first time within the EEA by the trademark owner or a third party (with the trademark owner’s permission), it can be freely traded within the EEA as the trademark owner’s right will be exhausted. From that moment on, you may buy the branded product in another EEA member state.

Important: you are not allowed to import and trade counterfeit clothing. This is punishable by law.

Importing: how do you do that?