Trade Briefs

Trade in second-hand clothes: the bigger picture

Trade in second-hand clothes: the bigger picture

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10 Aug 2017

Author(s): Brian Mureverwi

In the past few months, trade in second-hand clothes has led to much debate on the African continent. Second-hand clothes are being sent to Africa, either having been donated for charity purposes or having been imported at a price below the input costs. The result is that domestic firms cannot compete, irrespective of high customs duties levied at the border. Some emerging arguments have cited health considerations related to second-hand clothes, especially undergarments, as not meeting sanitary standards. While African governments have legitimate reasons to be concerned about the import of second-hand clothes, there is no doubt that this lucrative business has created huge employment opportunities in many countries. Second-hand clothes are popular in Africa, and have attracted various names across the African landscape. For example, in Kenya they are known as mitumba, chagua in Rwanda, mivumba in Uganda, okrika in Nigeria, mabhero or kotamai boutique in Zimbabwe, among others.

The debate recently drew the attention of trade economists after the East African Community (EAC) proposed to phase out the importation of second-hand clothes by 2019. The proposal by the EAC partner states was met with possible withdrawal of trade preferences under the United States (US) African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The purpose of this brief is to examine the pattern of trade in second-hand clothes using International Trade Centre (ITC) Trademap, at the highly disaggregated level of HS8. This brief goes on further to examine trade in this commodity at continental level, reviewing a few country-specific examples, and then concludes by considering some implications of bans on the trade in second-hand clothes.


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