NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 3, 2004

In Africa, the rich world's hand-me-downs prevent a domestic textile industry from developing, say critics.

Yet a proposed ban on used clothing falls on incredulous ears in much of Kampala, Uganda. Importers and consumers of used garments, who far outnumber the manufacturers, have castigated the idea of an import ban, giving rise to a lively debate. A ban would harm consumers, they say:

  • Though it starts as charity, the declared value of American secondhand clothing exported to Africa was $59.3 million in 2002, according to the International Trade Commission.
  • About $2.3 million of that went to Uganda and accounts for about 81 percent of garment purchases, according to the Uganda Manufacturers Association.

Washington has little sympathy for banning secondhand imports, and contends that new and used clothing appeal to very different consumers. Meanwhile, South Africa, the continent's economic powerhouse, has thrown its lot in with protectionists:

  • Bowing to pressure from local manufacturers and labor unions, its government cut off imports of used clothing in 1999.
  • Nigeria, Ethiopia and Eritrea have imposed their own prohibitions, while Kenya has flirted with a ban.

The Ugandan government has so far equivocated in the battle over used clothes:

  • In 2003, it raised the import duty on used clothes from 10 to 15 percent, but has held steady since.
  • Regulators have announced a ban on used undergarments, which will put an end to at least one sector of the market.

In 1997, Texaid, a Swiss-based association of charities that deal in secondhand garments, studied the market for used clothing in Ghana and concluded that it complemented, rather than displaced, the indigenous industry, which dealt mostly in traditional African fabrics, like Ghana's well-known kente cloth. But Ghanaian companies still complain that used clothing boxes them out of their own market.

Source: Carter Dougherty, "Trade Theory vs. Used Clothes in Africa," New York Times, June 3, 2004.


Browse more articles on Economic Issues