Trade Briefs

The textile and clothing trade in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS)

The textile and clothing trade in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS)

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29 Apr 2016

Author(s): Maria Immanuel and Ron Sandrey

Outside of South Africa there is little traditional manufacturing capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa that is able to make an impact in global export markets. Perhaps the only sector that has consistently performed at this level is the textile and clothing (TC) sector, but even here its performance has been for the most part modest. South Africa has, in recent years, adopted protectionist measures in the form of quotas on Chinese imports and increased tariffs to the WTO bound rate of 45%, but this has done little to revive the South African productive sector. What has been more significant has been the performance of the smaller BLNS countries of Lesotho, in particular, and Swaziland as they react to preferential access into the increasingly protected South African market.

The objective for this paper is to assess the trade profile of the TC sector in the BLNS countries over the last six years, with this six year period chosen as reliable BLNS trade data is not readily available prior to that time. The data is sourced from the International Trade Centre (ITC) and expressed in US dollars using both direct trade data as supplied by the country itself or mirror data as assessed by trading partners.

Since 2001 SACU’s share of the global narrower clothing (excluding textiles at this stage) export market (including intra-SACU exports) has varied from a low of 0.17 % during 2005 following a high of 0.53% in 2003. Over the last few years this global share has stabilised at around 0.20%. While this may seem a reasonable contribution to a vast market, further examination shows that around 60% of this is intra-SACU exporting and a very large percentage of the remainder is to the single US market.

It is on this ‘outside’ market of the US that export attention is focussed, and here we find that the contribution is now almost entirely from Lesotho under the tariff preferences of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). It is also disconcerting to learn that even though the US is the major ‘outside’ export market for not only SACU but also the nascent sub-Saharan countries the total combined sub Saharan share of the US market is lower than Cambodia’s and of course significantly lower than China’s.

Despite South African endeavours to protect its clothing market, its imports have been stable in recent years, while those for both Lesotho and Swaziland are increasing. China is the main supplier to South Africa, with intra-SACU imports stable at around one quarter of the total South African imports in recent years. A striking feature of the BLNS trade is that there is very limited intra-BLNS trade in any direction.


This Trade Brief was prepared during the tralac Geek Week of 11-15 April 2016. Maria Immanuel is a Trade and Investment Analyst at Namibia Trade Forum, and Ron Sandrey is a tralac Associate.

Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.