• Authored By: Justine Luwedde
20 Feb 2024

Experts argue that imports of second-hand clothing are not solely responsible for the stagnation of domestic textile industries. Other factors such as, imports of poor quality low-cost new clothing from Asia, inadequacies in investment in textile production and poor cotton yields among others bear the blame.

 

Uganda has been at the forefront of discussions surrounding the potential ban on the importation of second-hand clothes following the presidential directive premised on hygiene and public health related issues, and its effects on domestic textile and garment industries. This has raised concerns among traders and consumers about the sustainability of their livelihoods and the availability of affordable clothing options on the market.

In 2016, East African Community (EAC) governments agreed to cease imports of second-hand clothes to the bloc partly to enhance industrialisation in the textile and leather industries in member states. For Uganda, the Vision 2040 informed this decision, as it aims at promoting agro-processing and manufacturing of consumer products, and the ‘Buy Uganda Build Uganda’ (BUBU) policy that focuses on strengthening the production, supply, and consumption of local products.

However, trade in second-hand clothing has become an essential component of Uganda’s informal sector, employing thousands of people across the country. Market traders and street vendors derive their income from selling second-hand clothes. Besides job creation, secondhand clothes are a source of government revenue, and allow people to meet their clothing needs by offering affordable alternatives, especially for low-income earners.

There are justifications for and against the ban on secondhand clothing. First, imports of second-hand clothes stagnate the development of the domestic textile and clothing sector. The textile industry in Uganda has not been able to grow due to high cost of production and low demand for clothes produced locally, high competition from imports of second-hand clothes which are cheaper. Uganda’s latest suspension from the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) is another challenge to the textile sector as the country will lose preferential market access to the USA.

Second, second-hand clothes create dependency on developed countries for fashionable yet cheaper clothing options which the local textile manufacturers do not provide. Uganda’s imports of second-hand clothes have increased overtime by 43 percent from USD 61 million in 2013 to USD 106 million in 2022. The major supply markets being China, USA, and Canada. Many Small and Medium-sized Enterprises rely on the trading of second-hand clothes as their source of income. A ban on imports would be difficult at first since these business owners might see a drop in revenue and sales.

Thirdly, experts argue that imports of second-hand clothing are not solely responsible for the stagnation of domestic textile industries, but other factors also contribute such as, imports of poor quality low-cost new clothing from Asia, inadequacies in investment in textile production and poor cotton yields among others.

In Uganda, cotton is mostly exported as raw material, and little is consumed locally. Cotton exports however declined from USD 58 million in 2019 to USD 26 million in 2023, attributed to land fragmentation. This implies that the cotton-to-textile value chain is undeveloped. Thus, the textile industry may not offer clothing alternatives in the short run if the ban on secondhand clothes is effected.

It is therefore important to address any potential obstacles that may occur in the process of prohibiting the importation of used clothing into Uganda. Policy makers need to put into consideration the broader implications of the ban on employment, revenue, and the welfare of local businesses even though the goal is to support the local textile industry.

As policy makers deliberate on the suitable policies and initiatives, local textile industry performance can be boosted through supporting farmers engaged in the production of silk and cotton, to increase raw material supply. SMEs in the textile industry can be strengthened via increasing access to affordable finance and technical assistance to enable them to compete with bigger firms and create jobs.

Lastly, increasing funding for Research and Development (R&D) is key in hastening the creation of modern materials, improving processes of production and technologies. This enables firms to increase efficiency in driving innovation, improve quality and compete more favourably.

 

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