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East African countries move to ban importation of second hand clothes despite US pressure

Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have agreed to ban second-hand clothing, mostly imported from the US and UK, in order to support their own textile industries.

They hope local factories will create much needed jobs and increase exports.

The three countries are now facing threats of trade sanctions from the US who says the ban violates free-trade agreements.

In 2015, the states of the East African Community (EAC) announced that from 2019, second-hand clothes and shoes would be banned from their markets. But the US has claimed this proposed ban goes too far and violates the trade agreements under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which aims to expand trade and investment on the continent.

At a summit last Friday in Uganda's capital Kampala, leaders agreed on a compromise in response to the pressure from Washington: second-hand imports will not be directly banned, but import taxes will still need to be paid. In addition, they want to invest more money in their own textile industry.

"The members of the East African Community should promote their textile industry by using measures which do not jeopardize the benefits of AGOA membership," they said in the meeting's closing communique.

It is still unclear whether the US intends to go along with this offer. But even if the EAC is excluded from the AGOA by the US, it probably won't pose much of a risk, according to Rodgers Mukwaya from the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). 

" Most countries in Eastern Africa benefited very little from AGOA — with the exception of Kenya.," he says, " AGOA has not had a strong benefit for countries in Eastern Africa. So any ban from the US will not have a big effect on the exports from Eastern Africa."

The UN Commission has already carried out a simulation study in case of cases and estimates that the export business of the three countries Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda will then only drop by 0.2%. Instead, the study predicts that countries could end up benefiting even in the event of AGOA exclusion.

Other countries in Africa have already faced a similar experience. In Zimbabwe, for example, the sale of second-hand clothing was prohibited in 2015 — although the ban was relaxed two years later. The local textile industry was not yet ready to deal with the rising demand. At the same time, Zimbabwe also faced the issue of a growing black market.

In Zambia, the prohibition of second hand clothes only extends to the importation and sell of under-garments such as pyjamas, night dresses, night gowns, ladies and gents briefs, brassieres, camisoles and vests

However, the trade of second hand under-garments still persists in the country.  The ban is secured under the Zambian Standards (ZS) 559.