Kagame speaks out on US threat over used clothes ban
President Paul Kagame has said that Rwanda will proceed with the planned phase-out of importation of second-hand clothes despite the threats that it could lead to a review of eligibility to access duty-free access to the American market.
President Kagame made the remarks yesterday while addressing a news conference moments after submitting his nomination papers to the National Electoral Commission (NEC).
Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania’s eligibility to trade with the US is under review, following the region’s move to phase out the importation of used clothes.
The review could see Rwanda and her neighbours lose duty-free access to the American market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
Kagame, however, said the situation leads Rwanda to make a choice between continued importation of used clothes and developing the local textile industry.
He said that despite the consequences of being locked out of AGOA, Rwanda is keen on developing its local textile industry.
“Rwanda and other countries in the region that are part of AGOA, have to do other things, we have to grow and establish our industries,” Kagame said.
“We are put in a situation where we have to choose; you choose to be a recipient of used clothes with a threat hanging or choose to grow our textile industries, which Rwandans deserve at the expense of being part of AGOA.
“This is the choice we find that we have to make. As far as I am concerned, making the choice is simple, we might suffer consequences. Even when confronted with difficult choices, there is always a way,” he added.
The President noted that this is not the first time that Rwanda has had to make tough decisions in the interest of citizens.
EAC member countries have moved to phase out the importation of used clothes and shoes across the East African region as part of an industrialisation plan to give rise to the growth of the local textile industry.
As part of the move, Rwanda last year increased taxes on used clothes from $0.2 to $2.5 per kilogramme, while taxes on used shoes will increase from $0.2 to $3 per kilogramme.
In the 2017/18 Budget Estimates, the Government also eased taxes on inputs under the Made-in-Rwanda initiative, which is expected to facilitate the growth of the local textile industry.
President Kagame is one of the African heads of state advocating for improved engagement terms between African countries and Western countries for mutual benefit.
Kagame has said several times that it’s time to consider Africa as an equal partner in development as opposed to a beneficiary requiring donations and aid.
As part of the move to make the continent less dependent on external financing, Kagame was last year asked to spearhead the African Union reforms.
He said he will continue playing the role as requested by the African heads of state to support the reforms process.
Kagame is scheduled to present a progress update at a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, next month.
The President said that the intention by African leaders to change status quo was a huge step.
“The fact that the leaders of Africa have found it necessary to do things different is a very big step,” he said.
Going forward, he said the move by the continent will reduce the impact of external factors on the continent’s socio-economic progress.
Phasing out second hand clothes is all in our interests
Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), some selected African countries could export a range of products to the US market duty free.
Under that arrangement, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda managed to export goods worth $43 million in 2016. Now the US government has buckled under SMART’s pressure and threatened to rescind AGOA.
For many years, African countries have been the main destination of second hand clothes and shoes, most of them from the US.
But why should we be forced to import second hand clothes? What dignity is there in wearing castoffs? Our textile industries have failed to take off simply because of this kind of arm-twisting.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) must be aware that last year the US exported $281 million worth of goods to the three mentioned countries.
How can a mere $24 million derived from second hand exports to the whole EAC region be an issue to the extent of damaging trade relations between the US and the EAC?
Why should we agree to be dumping grounds for used things? How come no noise was made when the government banned the importation of used electric appliances such as refrigerators because of environmental reasons?
Phasing out second hand clothes and shoes is based on sound economic and health grounds. The US is working in the interests of its second hand clothes exporters; EAC should do the same for our textile industries.