Rwanda Wants To Ban Secondhand Clothing Imports

by: Well Made Clothes Staff | 4 weeks ago | News

Image: a secondhand clothing store in Rwanda. Image source

Donation is one way to extend the lifecycle of your clothing, but the glut of poor quality secondhand clothes proves that many people are simply using this as an excuse to buy into the culture of disposable fashion. Which explains why some African nations are sick of being dumped with our used clothing. 

The Guardian reported a few years ago that Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi had announced their intention to phase out imports of secondhand clothing and shoes from western countries by 2019. And this is now at the centre of a standoff between Rwanda and the US.

According to Rwandan officials, secondhand clothing has been stifling the country’s own fashion economy. So in 2016, the nation raised its per-kilogram import tax in 2016 from 20 cents to $2.50, amounting to what’s been called “a de facto ban.” Donald Trump then retaliated by threatening to revoke the nation’s benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (“AGOA”) – America’s preferential trade deal intended to lift trade and economic growth across sub-Saharan Africa.

In a letter from the Office of the US Trade Representative last year, Rwanda was given 60 days to revoke the tariffs. That seven-page letter “set Africa in the cross-hairs of the new administration’s ‘America First’ trade ideology, pitting the world’s largest economy against tiny Rwanda over an unlikely US export: cast-off clothes.” Then in late July, the Trump administration ordered the formal suspension of Rwanda’s ability to ship apparel products duty-free to the US.

What all this proves is that we need to think twice about the clothes we donate. If you ask Telesphore Mugwiza – an official at Rwanda’s ministry of trade and industry – the booming secondhand clothing industry threatens the traditional craftsmanship of local artisans. “Across Africa, secondhand merchandise is the primary source of clothing,” with discarded garments coming en masse from the US and Europe, writes the New York Times. “For countries like Rwanda, a small landlocked state with few natural resources to extract and export, building local manufacturing is vital for [long-term economic] development.”

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