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US anger after East African ban on import of used clothes

Efforts by East African economies to ban the import of used clothes to stimulate local textile industries, have provoked a backlash from the United States.

The New York Times reports the Office of the United States Trade Representative threatened to expel four of the six East African countries included in the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa). Agoa is a preferential deal intended to lift trade and economic growth across sub-Saharan Africa.

Under the deal, products like oil, coffee and tea are allowed access to American markets with low tariffs. But, the White House has the right to terminate the agreement with a country if it feels the relationship doesn’t benefit the US.

Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Burundi have been trying to phase out imports of secondhand clothing and shoes over the last year, saying the influx of old items undermines their efforts to build domestic textile industries. The countries want to impose an outright ban by 2019.

So far, some countries have raised their import tariffs on used garments to such an extent that it constitutes a de facto ban.

“The American response reflects a desire to both protect jobs and have open access to small but promising markets. The East African nations are trying to replicate the success stories in Asia and even the United States, where infant manufacturing industries were initially protected and nurtured before they were able to compete on the global market,” reports the New York Times.

According to the paper, the stand-off brings into sharp focus the debate among countries, especially developing ones, on how to balance protectionism with the risk of damaging their relationship with developed countries.

But Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, who has been the most vocal leader about the used clothing ban among East African countries, said the region should go ahead with the ban even if it meant sacrificing some economic growth.

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