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US’ ultimatum to African nations to reverse ban on used clothes imports

Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have been given an ultimatum by the US to reverse their ban on used clothes imports or face trade sanctions. The three East African countries have been given a week’s ultimatum. The acting head of economic and regional affairs at the Africa Bureau of the US State Department, Harry Sullivan issued the ultimatum ahead of the East African Community (EAC) Heads of State Summit in Kampala, Uganda next week. “I believe the results of the meeting next week will determine how we proceed. While we understand the East African Community’s desire to build a domestic textile sector, we firmly believe the EAC ban on imports of used clothing will not achieve that.”

The EAC comprising Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and South Sudan had come to a decision to ban imported second-hand clothes and shoes by 2019, arguing it would help member countries enhance domestic manufacturing of clothes. As signatories to the AGOA trade programme which offers them duty-free access to the US, their decision violates the conditions including eliminating barriers to US trade and investment, among others.

The US was petitioned by the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) which complained that the ban “imposed significant hardship” on the US used-clothing industry and violated AGOA rules. Rwandan President Paul Kagame stated his country will proceed with the ban on used clothes and will choose to grow its local textile industry at the expense of being a member of the AGOA.

Uganda and Rwanda have already raised taxes for used clothes and offered incentives to manufacturers to invest in their local textile industry. US imports from Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda was around $43 million in 2016, up from $33 million in 2015 while exports were $281 million in 2016, up from $257 million in 2015.