Sunday, February 18, 2018

Give functional answer on ‘mitumba’ imports

What has for long been seen as a proposed ban on imports of secondhand clothing by three of the six member-nations of the East African Community is said to be a complete misunderstanding of the real situation.

Hitherto, it’d been generally ‘understood’ that Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda plan to ban outright secondhand clothing imports. This was ostensibly considered “essential to efforts at developing domestic industries for clothes production.”

To that end, four EAC states – Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – reportedly agreed in 2015 to ban used clothing imports over a three-year period beginning in 2019.

Apparently, the US has been disputing this, arguing that the proposed ‘ban’ would stifle free trade – and is against the May 18, 2000 ‘US Africa Growth and Opportunity Act’ (Agoa).

Extended to year-2025, Agoa significantly enhances access to the vast US market for eligible sub-Sahara African (s-SA) countries.

To so-qualify – and remain ‘Agoa-eligible’ – an s-SA country “must (among other criteria) be working to improve its rule of law, human rights, respect for core labor standards” – and “eliminate barriers to trade with the US!”

So, when the four EAC states first raised the issue of ‘banning’ used clothing imports in 2015, Kenya – which benefits the most under the Agoa arrangements, including relatively substantial exports of Kenya-made textiles to the US – just as soon withdrew from the agreed proposal.

Virtually left in the lurch by Kenya

Virtually left in the lurch by Kenya, the other three EAC proponents of the used clothing imports ‘ban’ apparently nursed the proposal – and were reportedly planning to finally decide whether or not to proclaim it at the ‘EAC Heads of State Retreat on Infrastructure and Health Financing and Development’ in Kampala next week.

But, speaking in an interview with Business Daily – The Citizen’s sister paper in Nairobi – the acting head of Economic and Regional Affairs Unit in the US State Department’s Africa Bureau, Mr Harry Sullivan, reportedly said Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have until next week’s meeting in Kampala to reverse the banning proposal – or face the consequences.

Fortunately, much of the misunderstanding has now been cleared up by the Tanzania Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr Augustine Mahiga – who said on Friday that there’s no question of banning imports of secondhand clothing.

Instead, the countries involved will simply “phase in and phase out importation of used clothes and shoes, while building domestic manufacturing capacities…” he stressed.

By ‘phasing in’ – the minister explained –the countries involved would build the domestic capacity to make clothes to be used in place of imported secondhand clothing… And, imports would be phased out gradually, as “the local market still demands the product.”

That said – and the air having finally been cleared by the Tanzania government regarding the virtual antipodes that are ‘banning mitumba imports’ and ‘phasing them in and out’ – we all expectantly look forward to the decision in Kampala next week.

This should hopefully set the stage and pave the way to EAC countries that are self-sufficient in locally-manufactured, affordable clothing – and, by parity of reasoning, free of used clothing imports.