A senior Kenyan official, who is in Rwanda for the ongoing East African Manufacturing and Business Summit, has refuted claims that her government has reneged on a regional move to progressively ban used clothing.
Betty Maina, principal secretary in the Kenyan ministry of labour and EAC affairs, told The New Times that Kenya has not made a U-turn on reduction of consumption of used clothing and that East Africans should have the dignity of wearing new clothing.
Maina said: “That’s the aspiration of all regional heads of state and that’s something that has been upheld. Over the last few years, all the countries have been building up their textile industry with a view to ensuring that it can supply decent and competitively priced new cloths that will replace demand for used cloths.”
“Kenya has been at the forefront of this. In the last two months Kenya sold or made available to the market in Kenya and the region new clothing made in EPZs and there is great demand for those new cloths.”
An Export Processing Zone (EPZ) is a customs area where one is allowed to import plant, machinery, equipment and material for the manufacture of export goods under security, without payment of duty.
Contrary to what is being alleged, Maina said Kenya seeks to expand availability of new clothing made in the country to other east African countries and it is committed to ensuring that consumers “have an affordable choice of locally made textiles so that overtime, we can completely eliminate used clothing.”
EAC interests first
“Used clothing make a large part of exports from Europe and America to east Africa and, we are aware that their lobbyists obviously have an interest in this but east African interests come first,” Maina said.
She was emphatic that the communiqué of the 18th Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of State, held in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, last weekend “clearly affirmed the commitment of east Africans to build up a competitive local textile industry” and Kenya was part and parcel of the Summit.
“The Heads of State received a progress report on the review of the textile and leather sector with a view to developing a strong and competitive domestic sector that gives consumers better choice than imported used textile and footwear and directed the Council to finalise the matter and report to the 19th summit,” reads the communiqué of the 18th ordinary summit of the EAC Heads of State.
Speaking on condition of anonymity as they are not allowed to speak about the issue, some regional leaders cited Kenya’s alleged caution to other partner states saying that they should refrain from using the word “ban” in the bloc’s plan to progressively do away with imports of used clothing, saying this contravenes international trade laws.
Kenya’s proposal, they say, is for EAC countries to continue with their agenda and increase duties on such imports as well as set up their own production structures and capacities to make available east African-made clothing and shoes but avoid the word “ban.”
“The EAC Summit did not use the word ‘ban’ but indicated that we will progressively phase out,” the official said, explaining that the problem is being caused by the US which “has been complaining about why we are proposing a ban on used clothing and shoes.”
In his remarks at the opening of the summit in Kigali on Tuesday, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, the secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), had called upon the region to speak out with one voice.
Kituyi, a Kenyan, said: “Kenya, you are wrong to reverse the stand on used clothing. East Africa should speak with one voice. If you speak as a group, there is no American lobby that will say that America is suspending relations with East Africa because you are refusing used clothing.”
Most importantly, Kituyi said, the region has the potential and a peace dividend to take advantage of in spurring industrial growth.
Kituyi was Kenya’s minister for trade and industry between 2002 and 2007 when he faced off with Western powers on the same matter.
“When I was minister for trade and industry in Kenya, the US government pushed me, as part of negotiating AGOA [Africa Growth Opportunity Act], that we should not reduce importation of used clothing,” he said.
“But I told the US trade representative at the time, Robert Zoellick, who later became president of the World Bank, ‘can you look me in the eye and tell me that in our democratic partnership, you want us to make clothing to sell to America and after you wear them and owners of those clothing die, you export them for us to wear?’ He said, ‘no, our industry demanded it but I had to explain.’”
According to François Kanimba, the minister for trade, industry and EAC affairs, the EAC Secretariat has completed a study on a roadmap how the region will implement the phase out and ultimate total ban of imports of used clothing.
The EAC study, he said, will be discussed at the end of the month during which they will approve a detailed strategy on how to develop textile and leather industry in the region.
Rwanda has already started implementing a phaseout of importing used clothing.
Lilian Awinja, the chief executive of the East African Business Council, said they have for a long time recommended the ban of usedd clothing imports.
“Why would we, for example, want east Africans to use inner garments that have been used by other people? There is no logic in that,” she said.
“As a region, we must make a decision and agree that we will trade with them in other products other than clothes and footwear that is used.”
Christophe Bazivamo, the EAC deputy secretary-general in charge of productive and social sectors, said the “problem behind used clothing come from a complaint on the American side.”
Bazivamo said: “Americans involved in used clothing business have written officially threatening to take this issue to the US Congress the argument being that people in America involved in that business are losing jobs.
“They wish East Africans to stop the campaign they are in and continue using used clothing. It is disrespectful to our citizens. It is not about defending the interests of east Africans but about protecting business interests of other countries.”
The bloc’s big picture is about promoting local industries with a multiplier effect on job creation and wealth creation, among others.
“We export more than 70 per cent of the cotton produced in East Africa and our local textile industries are underutilised,” Bazivamo said.