East African countries plan to stop importation of used clothes and shoes, a move that is likely to have a huge impact on the multi-billion shilling industry.
The decision to initiate the process was among the agreements made at the 16th East African Community heads of states summit that ended on Friday, in Nairobi.
The ban on importation of used clothes and shoes, referred to as mitumba in Kenya, is intended to boost local textile and leather industries.
“The summit further directed the council of ministers to study the modalities for the promotion of textile and leather industries in the region and stopping the importation of used clothes, shoes and other leather products,” the presidents said in a communiqué read at the end of the summit.
The council of ministers, composed of the region’s ministers in charge of East African Affairs, is required to report on their progress in the next summit.
The presidents also tasked the ministers to assess how assembly of cars within the region could be promoted to reduce second-hand car imports.
A total ban on importing used clothes would likely have a big impact given that the clothes are bought by the poor who cannot afford news ones.
Banning imports of such clothes would, however, be good news for textile firms, which have over the years been asking the government to either ban them or slap high taxes on them to discourage imports.
This would not be the first time for Kenya, which allowed importation of used clothes in the early 1990s, to seek a ban on the imports.
In 2012, then Finance minister Njeru Githae introduced the same idea through Sessional Paper Number 9 of that year.
The argument from the executive was that importation of second-hand clothes had changed from the noble idea of helping the poor in developing countries by having people in the First World donate their extra clothes into a huge business benefiting rich traders who now steer the multi-billion shillings industry.
But the passage of the sessional paper would require accompanying laws to take effect. This would require initiative from the Executive and support of MPs.
When President Kenyatta was Finance minister, he slashed import duty on second-hand clothes from $0.3 per kilo (or 45 per cent whichever is higher) to $0.20 per kilo (or 35 per cent whichever is higher). These rates are still applicable.
Mr Kenyatta said then that the cut was necessary to allow low income earners afford clothes during the economic slowdown that the country was grappling with then.