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President Macron pledges to end to second-hand clothes trade

An EU bloc-wide exporting ban will have mixed effects on African economies

The French government's plans to push other EU countries to impose a bloc-wide ban on the export of used clothes could be another counter-productive piece of EU law.

Africa imports US$1 billion a year of second-hand clothes, accounting for 30% of the global market. But the industry is a divisive topic among policy-makers. 

The East African Community agreed to ban second-hand clothing imports in 2016, on the grounds that they were stalling the growth of the local textiles industry. However, this prompted a lengthy trade dispute with the United States, which threatened suspension from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which offers tariff and quota-free access to the US market for African exports. In the event, only Rwanda imposed the ban and was suspended from AGOA as a result (AC Vol 59 No 7, AGOA hits Mitumba).

But while economists contend that second-hand clothing is a barrier to African industrialisation and supply chain development in textiles, thousands of market sellers across the continent make a livelihood from the market.

That tension was exploited by Kenyan President William Ruto during the 2022 presidential election after his opponent, Raila Odinga, proposed a ban on 'mitumba'. Ruto focused his presidential campaign around supporting Kenya's 'hustler nation' of small businesses and traders (AC Vol 63 No 13, Raila's old clothes).

The French environment ministry, which says that Paris has the support of Denmark and Sweden, contends that the ban will reduce textile waste and the environmental damage it causes. Europe currently dumps 90% of its used clothes in Africa and Asia.

With the EU institutions set to shut down for several months from April, ahead of the European Parliament elections in June, and a new European Commission set to take office in September, the French proposal could be put on hold until later in the year.

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