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Rwanda’s Efforts to Boost its Domestic Garment Industry has been a Lonely Fight

In 2015, six members of the East Africa Community (EAC) block of countries – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South-Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda – announced that they would all put in place high tariffs on the import of second-hand clothing or “chagua”. The idea behind the de-facto ban was to stop the importation of large quantities of cheap used clothing, mostly from the US and the UK, which the African nations said were stifling the growth of their nascent garment industries. The US responded that the proposed ban would violate free-trade agreements, and it threatened to remove the EAC countries from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa). After the US’ announcement, all EAC members except for Rwanda backed out. It went on to introduce a tariff of $4 per kilogram on imports of used clothing in 2018. The US responded by putting tariffs of 30% on Rwandan clothing, where there had previously been none. Some experts, however, doubt if Rwanda will be able to build a competitive clothing industry. While Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Burundi are major cotton producing countries, Rwanda needs to import this raw material, as the tiny state isn’t suitable for major cotton production, being a mountainous and extremely densely populated country. The ban on used clothes also seems to have a totally different – unintended – effect as it pushes Rwandans to start buying cheap, imported new Chinese clothes.