Picture: 123RF / TOILETROOM
Picture: 123RF / TOILETROOM

Washington — On Monday, the US suspended duty-free benefits for apparel from Rwanda due to tariffs imposed by the East African country on used clothing and footwear imports it blames for harming the local textile industry.

The proclamation by US President Donald Trump "suspends the application of duty-free treatment for all apparel products from Rwanda", the office of the US trade representative said in a statement.

The now-suspended duty-free benefits came under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), but "Rwanda remains eligible to receive non-apparel benefits available under" the measure, deputy US trade representative CJ Mahoney said in the statement.

Affected products accounted for about 3% of Rwandan exports to the US in 2017, valued at $1.5m, meaning that "the president’s action does not affect the vast majority of Rwanda’s exports to the US", he said.

Rwanda blames used clothing — which mainly comes from the US — for undermining the development of its local textile industry. In 2016, Kigali raised tariffs on the importation of second-hand clothes, disrupting a multi-million-dollar industry and setting it on a collision course with the US.

Initially, the East African Community regional bloc was united in its battle against used clothes, but the alliance cracked as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda balked at the prospect of retaliatory loss of access to US markets via Agoa.

Only Rwanda did not capitulate and in 2016 its imports of used clothing dropped by a third.