The region should devise ways of promoting the textile and leather industries and stop importation of used clothes
Regional governments in the East African Community (EAC) have been advised to adhere to the decision to ban importation of second hand clothes, in order to promote value addition in the cotton and textile industries.
According to Mukhisa Kitui, the Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), adherence to the ban will create domestic demand for textiles and increase the share of manufactured exports.
"My home country Kenya, for example, imports Boeing planes from the US at a very high cost, so the reciprocity on trade should not be at the level of used clothes.
Therefore, East Africa should stand with one voice and resist importation of used clothes into the region," he said, during the second Manufacturing and Business Summit at the Kigali Serena Hotel recently.
Last year, EAC leaders met in Arusha, Tanzania during the 17th Ordinary summit, and proposed a ban on importation of used clothes, shoes and leather products; although Kitui said they have of late come under pressure to reverse the decision.
According to the proposal, the region would devise ways of promoting the textile and leather industries, and stop importation of used clothes, shoes and other leather products from outside the region.
The proposal also sought to prioritise the region's manufacturing sector, with the five presidents of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi expected to promote modalities for Industrialisation.
"Individual governments should not make reversals on that position because it's a collective decision that was taken at a high level summit, and every individual country must reiterate the collectiveness of the decision. If we have countries doing reversals on key decisions like that, it will have adverse effects on the spirit of integration," Kitui warned.
According to the US International Trade Commission, Uganda imports at least 1,500 tonnes of second-hand clothing annually from the United States alone, while another 2,000 tonnes is imported from the UK, Canada and China annually.
Kitui added that the EAC Industrialisation policy provides a regional framework for growing and expanding the manufacturing and small and medium enterprise (SME) business, to create employment and income for the benefit of the region.
"This means the region, like the other developing countries, will transition itself into an industrial bloc through a higher level of production quality and manufacturing practices, "he said.
He further said the ban will benefit the industry and increase access to locally manufactured textile products throughout the region, while at the same time creating more employment opportunities.
"We must stop making excuses and implement policies that will propel us to industrialised economies," he said.
According to experts, although the region is taking measures to boost cotton growing, it is also over dependent on extra regional sourcing of fabrics and accessories, a situation which constrains the growth of its own industries.
The East Africa Business Council statistics indicate the region currently consumes only 10% of its cotton production while the rest is exported to Europe, Asia and America in raw form.
The head of policy and advocacy at Uganda Manufacturers'' Association (UMA), Lawrence Oketcho, noted that although there is notable increase in cotton production across the region, the yields are generally low.
"Our combined production is currently at 670, 000 metric tonnes per annum, while the current market size for apparel fibre is estimated at about 760metric tonnes. This means we must boost yields. Cotton is the main source of income to over a million households, and if worked on, can greatly improve the per capita incomes in the region," he said.
He also noted that the region's expenditure on used clothes currently stands at $350m (sh1.257trillion), and is growing at a rate of 60% per annum.
The chairperson of the Private Sector Foundation, Gideon Badagawa said cotton, together with coffee and copper, was part of the famed 3Cs - pillars of Uganda's economy before its collapse in the mid-seventies.
He said at the time, Uganda was one of the best cotton producing countries on the continent, which has since slumped and as such, the industry must be revived before banning importation of used clothes.
"As the private sector foundation, we believe such pronouncements are uncalled for before any capacity for import substitution across the region is done," he said.