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For dignity and development, East Africa curbs imports of used clothes

Signal of change / For dignity and development, East Africa curbs imports of used clothes

By Emily Sharples / 30 Nov 2017

A group of East African countries, including Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Burundi, no longer want second-hand clothes. The countries are aiming for an all out ban by 2019. 

In 2015, East Africa imported $151 million worth of used clothes and shoes from Western countries, many of they coming from donations to charities such as Oxfam. However, clothing just forms part of a long list of second-hand goods flooding the East African market: vehicles, hospital equipment, computers and even out of date medicines are imported from mainly Europe and the United States. 

So what?

A tariff hike by some East African countries last year, that in practice amount to a ban to imported second-hand textiles, resulted in a significant international reaction. The Office of the United States Trade Representative threatened to expel four of the countries from the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, a trade deal intended to alleviate poverty in sub-Saharan Africa through international trade and economic growth. The Rwandan President spoke out defiantly against the backlash, stating that wearing second-hand cast offs compromises the dignity of the local people and simultaneously hinders further development of a domestic textile industry.

The dispute centers around protectionism. While almost all developed nations used protectionist policies in the past, how can developing countries balance nurturing their nascent industries with integrating themselves in the world economy? Some in East Africa question the ability of the region to challenge the status quo and develop without heavy reliance on international trade. Can they risk falling out of favour with the hegemonic United States? 

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What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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