After two years of mounting pressure on defiant Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, the United States has given these East African countries a one-week ultimatum to reverse their ban on used clothes imports or face trade sanctions.
The acting head of economic and regional affairs at the Africa Bureau of the US State Department, Harry Sullivan issued the ultimatum on Thursday 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,” he was quoted by regional news portal The EastAfrican.
The six-nation EAC comprising of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and South Sudan decided to fully ban imported second-hand clothes and shoes by 2019, arguing that it would help member countries boost domestic clothes manufacturing.
As signatories to the AGOA trade programme which offers them duty-free access to the United States, their decision violates the conditions including eliminating barriers to U.S. trade and investment, among others.
The United States was petitioned by the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) which complained that the ban “imposed significant hardship” on the U.S. used-clothing industry and violated AGOA rules.
Kenya withdrew its decision to ban used clothes after threats by the United States to review trade benefits which Kenya was a major beneficiary. The other countries did not budge.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame had stated that 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.
Sullivan told reporters that “the EAC are saying to consumers of used clothing we are going to take this choice away from you and you will not have access to this market anymore. We question whether consumers of used clothing will be able to afford the new apparel being made in the East African Community market.”
U.S. imports from Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda totalled $43 million in 2016, up from $33 million in 2015 while exports were $281 million in 2016, up from $257 million in 2015.