- The influx of used clothes from the west in effect affects the development of textile industries in the EAC
- Five years later, a new administration, Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war not to mention a stronger China economy, the US may reconsider EAC state’s position.
- EA States have 2 years to consider if they want AGOA renewed
In 2015, all major economies in East Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia proposed to ban the importation of second-hand clothes but the US would have none of it.
The intention was good, even noble: Banning second-hand imports would strengthen the domestic textile industry which would create jobs and other positive ripple effects.
“The US claimed this proposal goes too far and violates the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which aims to expand trade and investment on the continent,” the media reported.
Once the US pulled the AGOA card, the East African countries retreated and shelved the proposal.
On 6 Apr 2018: Tanzania rolled back a ban on the importation of second-hand clothing in the country, joining four other East African countries.
It had to, just like its EAC neighbours, Tanzania had no choice but to yield to the yanking of the AGOA leash. Nonetheless, the US allowed the EAC countries to think creatively around boosting local production.
“The members of the East African Community should promote their textile industry by using measures which do not jeopardize the benefits of AGOA membership,” said the US.
Also Read: Africa Fashionomics: The small problem with ‘Mitumba’
Now, five years later, a new administration, Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war not to mention the stubbornly ever strong China economy, the US may reconsider EAC state’s position.
Rodgers Mukwaya from the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) seems to think so; “Most countries in Eastern Africa benefited very little from AGOA — with the exception of Kenya…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.”
His view is not a personal opinion but rather a professional analysis following research by the Commission.
The UN Commission research, a simulation study, showed that in the event that the US pulls the AGOA leash again and the EAC refuses to heel, then “…the export business of the three countries Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda will only drop by 0.2 percent.”
Not only would the lost trade under AGOA be insignificant but the very opposite is true, the EAC would actually benefit; “…the study predicts that (EAC) countries could end up benefiting even in the event of AGOA exclusion.”
Given the fact that a majority of the region’s population is poor, cheaper alternatives provide relief on the cost of living, especially now with food and fuel inflation on the rise.
So, the influx of used clothes from the west in effect affects the development of textile industries in the EAC and stifles efforts to develop manufacturing and create employment for youth and women.
A third of secondhand clothes end up in landfills
Unwearable polyester garments are no less than plastic waste in disguise. That is how the Changing Markets Foundation (CMF) describes the second-hand clothing debacle in its case study for Kenya.
“As much as one-third of the clothing sent from the west to developing countries every year may be ending up in landfill,” CMF warns.
The report shows that a considerable amount of the second-hand clothing imports are already too worn out for reuse, and in effect, they are simply waste from the West dumped in Africa.
“Between 20 and 50% of all donated clothing is not of sufficient quality to be sold on the local secondhand market,” the CMF report reveals.
The report says, if the used clothes are not too worn out, then they are more often than not stained and/or damaged. Some of the items are of good quality but they are simply of no use in Africa; take for instance skiing outfits and winter clothing, these simply have no purpose in almost all African settings.
Worse still, most of the winter wear is plastic-based, that is, made from petroleum-based synthetic fibers such as polyester.
“More than one in three pieces of used clothing shipped to Kenya is a form of plastic waste in disguise and a substantial element of toxic plastic pollution in the country,” the report reveals the dirty truth.
True to that fact, most of these synthetic ‘plastic’ wastes end up burned in landfills which means air pollution, and tonnes of carbon monoxide fumes is what becomes of most of the second-hand clothing.
If not burned, these plastic wastes end up clogging water ways and polluting water sources, destroying marine life, the vicious cycle is no better in the water scenario than on land or air, the second-hand clothes only destroy the environment.
Ironically, the West has the recycling capacity for these clothes but opts to make an extra buck by forcing the clothes to Africa using lopsided deals like the AGOA trade pact.
Another factor is that countries in the EAC are forced to build ‘export parks’ or the so-called ‘Special Economic Zones’ within which foreign multinational companies can produce products at reduced costs thanks to tax breaks, levy waivers, and other fee breaks offered within these Special Economic Zones, not to mention the extremely cheap labour afforded to these companies.
What is ironic here is the fact that some of these Special Economic Zones are occupied by textile companies from the West making top-brand clothes that are then exported to their first-time wearers in the West.
When the first intended consumer does not need it anymore, the same garment is sold to the second-class consumer back in Africa as second-hand clothing under pacts like the AGOA deal.
The AGOA pact comes to an end in 2025. East Africa has two years to review the pros and cons of AGOA and decide whether to continue with the deal as is or leave the used clothes to their users and produce their own and even sell them to the US, via India through Cambodia and finally past Mexico before you buy it in a mall in San Diego.
Also Read: Africa is fighting a losing battle banning used apparel