Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Home Africa Rwanda's clothing spat with the US helps China

Rwanda’s clothing spat with the US helps China


Rwanda is working hard to build up its garment industry
Rwanda is working hard to build up its garment industry

More than 100 sewing machines rattle away at a factory on the outskirts of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

A cooperative of 83 of the African nation’s tailors established the company – the Kigali Garment Centre – last year.

Located in an industrial area built on one of the rolling green hills surrounding the city, it was set up in line with the Rwandan government’s strategy of boosting the country’s clothing manufacturing sector.

“We’ve trained 130 youngsters, of whom 97% are female, since the factory launched,” says the firm’s director general and co-founder Jerome Mugabo.

Behind him on the main factory floor, employees, who all seem to be in their teens or 20s, are producing chino trousers.

Jerome Mugabo says his business is proud to mostly employ women
Jerome Mugabo says his business is proud to mostly employ women

Rwanda’s efforts to boost its domestic garment industry have seen it fight a lonely, and continuing, trade battle with the US that dates back to 2015.

Back then the six members of the East Africa Community (EAC) block of countries – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South-Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda – announced that they would all put in place high tariffs on the import of second-hand clothing or “chagua”.

The idea behind the de-facto ban was to stop the importation of large quantities of cheap used clothing, mostly from the US and the UK, which the African nations said were stifling the growth of their nascent garment industries.

The extent of the issue for the six countries was shown bywidely reported 2015 figures from the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The USAID said that in that year, the EAC states accounted for almost 13% ($274m; £213m) of the global imports of used clothing.

The study also found that almost two thirds of the combined populations purchased some second-hand clothes.

Keen to hang on to its share of these exports, the US responded that the proposed ban would violate free-trade agreements, and it threatened to remove the EAC countries from theAfrican Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).

Enacted back in 2000, this allows 39 sub-Saharan African nations to export thousands of goods duty-free to the US.

After the US’s announcement, all EAC members except for Rwanda backed out. It went on to introduce a tariff of $4 per kilogram on imports of used clothing in 2018. The US responded by putting tariffs of 30% on Rwandan clothing, where there had previously been none.

When Rwandan President Paul Kagame met US President Donald Trump in 2018, things were said to be frosty
When Rwandan President Paul Kagame met US President Donald Trump in 2018, things were said to be frosty

While Rwanda was only exporting about $1.5m of clothing per year to the US at the time, this stopped that overnight, and meant that the African nation could not hope to increase it.

However, Jerome Mugabo say he remains pleased by Rwanda’s decision to go it alone. “It helped us to set up our business, as we get more customers since the ban,” he says.

Ritesh Patel, managing director of Rwanda’s oldest garment factory – Utexrwa, which was founded in 1984 – agrees.

“Rwanda needs to do this to be able to grow its economy,” he says. “As people were able to buy a second-hand men’s shirt for 800 Rwandan francs [84 US cents; 64p], they were not interested in a new men’s shirts of 4,000 Rwandan francs that we could produce.”

For years Utexrwa had focused solely on the production of uniforms, for the police, companies and schools. But since the ban on second-hand clothing imports, it has expanded into ordinary clothes, like men’s shirts.

Hong Kong's C&D Products exports what it makes in Kigali to Europe
Hong Kong’s C&D Products exports what it makes in Kigali to Europe

“It really helps that we no longer have to compete with cheap chagua, while we simultaneously witness a quickly growing middle class that will be able to afford “Made in Rwanda” products,” adds Mr Patel.

Yet where there are winners, there are also losers. “Life has become very difficult,” says Rajabu Nzeyimana, who stands behind a wooden market table piled high with second-hand boxer shorts, and a basket full of second-hand socks.

The 42-year old father has sold used clothing for seven years, but since 2018 has been forced to start buying it at a much higher price from traders who smuggle it from the Congolese border town Goma into Rwanda.

“My sales plumped because I had to increase my prices fivefold to be able to make a living,” he says.

Mr Nzeyimana adds that he now struggles to pay his children’s school fees.

Rajabu Nzeyimana (left), a seller of imported second-hand clothes, says his life has been made more difficult
Rajabu Nzeyimana (left), a seller of imported second-hand clothes, says his life has been made more difficult

The withdrawal of the Agoa trade benefits for apparel also makes Rwanda less attractive as a manufacturing base for international garment producers.

Chinese firm C&H Garment closed its factory in Kigali a few months after the US retaliated. It had exported more than half of its production to the US.

Map of Rwanda
Map of Rwanda

Another Chinese clothing firm with an operation in Rwanda – Hong Kong’s C&D Products – agrees that the stand off with the US is an issue. “It is obviously a problem,” says Maryse Mbonyumutwa, co-owner of its Rwandan subsidiary.

Such Chinese firms are increasingly interested in opening factories in Africa, as the labour costs are much lower than in China. What C&D is now doing is exporting to Europe from its Rwandan factory, while planning to build two manufacturing sites in Tanzania to focus on the US market.

To help the country’s clothing manufacturers, the Rwandan government has removed import taxes on raw materials such as cotton. And new factories get grants and loans.

Some experts, however, doubt if Rwanda will be able to build a competitive clothing industry. While Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Burundi are major cotton producing countries, Rwanda needs to import this raw material, as the tiny state isn’t suitable for major cotton production, being a mountainous and extremely densely populated country.

Water and electricity are also costly, and road transport is extremely bureaucratic and expensive as Rwanda is a landlocked country.

The ban on used clothes also seems to have a totally different – unintended – effect as it pushes Rwandans to start buying cheap, imported new Chinese clothes.

“The government should have waited until the country had build a mature textile industry before banning chagua,” says clothes seller Felicien Maniraguha. He has switched from selling imported used clothes to imported new Chinese ones.

Global Trade

More from theBBC’s series taking an international perspective on trade:

Mr Maniraguha says that local clothing production is still on too small a scale, and that the garments are not fashionable enough.

“Local garment factories currently only ensemble boring clothes that look like uniforms,” says the 30-year-old.

He contrasts this with the fashionable Chinese-made jeans and floral pint T-shirts that he is currently selling.

“Rwandans prefer clothes that look modern,” he says. “I doubt if the local textile industry will ever be able to produce nice, fashionable clothes that will become more popular than cheap Chinese imports.”

11 COMMENTS

  1. I wish to get across my admiration for your kind-heartedness for individuals that must have help on that subject. Your very own dedication to passing the solution along had been exceedingly interesting and have constantly made people like me to realize their endeavors. Your own warm and friendly advice implies a lot to me and far more to my peers. Thank you; from each one of us.

  2. Thanks for all of your hard work on this blog. My aunt enjoys participating in investigation and it’s really simple to grasp why. Many of us hear all regarding the lively mode you deliver very important techniques via the blog and as well inspire contribution from other people on this issue then our own child is learning a lot of things. Take pleasure in the remaining portion of the year. Your conducting a brilliant job.

  3. I as well as my pals were found to be taking note of the excellent tactics found on the website and then quickly I had a terrible suspicion I had not expressed respect to the web blog owner for those secrets. My women ended up as a result passionate to study them and have undoubtedly been taking pleasure in those things. Thanks for getting considerably helpful and also for obtaining this form of great useful guides most people are really desirous to be informed on. Our own sincere regret for not expressing gratitude to sooner.

  4. My spouse and i felt really thankful that Jordan could complete his investigation by way of the precious recommendations he received in your web site. It’s not at all simplistic to simply happen to be freely giving helpful hints which often many people could have been selling. And we all figure out we’ve got the blog owner to appreciate because of that. The specific explanations you have made, the easy web site menu, the relationships you can give support to instill – it is most impressive, and it is assisting our son and our family consider that that idea is thrilling, and that’s particularly essential. Thank you for all!

  5. I’m also commenting to let you know what a excellent discovery my wife’s girl went through going through your blog. She even learned such a lot of issues, which included what it is like to have a great coaching mood to let many people smoothly fully grasp some extremely tough subject matter. You actually surpassed people’s expectations. Many thanks for rendering the important, safe, edifying and even fun tips on the topic to Gloria.

  6. I have to show appreciation to the writer just for rescuing me from this type of situation. Because of searching through the world wide web and seeing tips which were not pleasant, I thought my life was gone. Existing minus the strategies to the problems you have sorted out through your good report is a serious case, as well as those which might have in a wrong way affected my entire career if I had not come across the blog. Your own personal expertise and kindness in playing with the whole lot was helpful. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I had not come upon such a thing like this. I can also at this time relish my future. Thank you very much for your professional and effective guide. I won’t think twice to refer the sites to anybody who needs and wants counselling about this problem.

  7. I as well as my buddies were actually reading through the excellent ideas located on the website then at once got a horrible feeling I never thanked the web blog owner for those tips. All of the people were definitely passionate to read through them and have now in fact been having fun with these things. We appreciate you getting considerably considerate and then for opting for certain beneficial areas millions of individuals are really desirous to discover. My very own sincere regret for not saying thanks to you earlier.

  8. I simply had to thank you so much once more. I do not know the things that I could possibly have used without these creative concepts documented by you regarding such a question. It truly was a very challenging matter for me personally, but finding out the well-written mode you dealt with it forced me to cry with gladness. Now i am thankful for the assistance and as well , hope that you know what a powerful job your are carrying out educating most people via a web site. I know that you haven’t met any of us.

  9. I must show my appreciation to you just for rescuing me from this difficulty. As a result of looking out through the world wide web and finding thoughts which are not helpful, I figured my entire life was well over. Living without the presence of solutions to the issues you have sorted out by way of your entire guideline is a critical case, as well as those that would have in a wrong way damaged my career if I hadn’t discovered your web blog. The capability and kindness in playing with the whole lot was useful. I am not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t discovered such a point like this. I’m able to at this point relish my future. Thanks so much for your impressive and result oriented guide. I will not be reluctant to recommend your web site to any individual who would like guidelines on this topic.

  10. I really wanted to construct a simple message so as to appreciate you for some of the lovely suggestions you are showing at this website. My time intensive internet lookup has now been paid with incredibly good strategies to write about with my classmates and friends. I would mention that many of us readers are unequivocally fortunate to live in a remarkable website with so many perfect people with helpful tips. I feel very happy to have encountered your web page and look forward to some more enjoyable times reading here. Thanks a lot again for a lot of things.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Ryder Cup 2010

McDowell knew the Twenty Ten course like the back of his hand. He’d won the Wales Open on the course that year and during a period when he lived in Cardiff he used the venue as his practice area.As the match descended into the home stretch McDowell sunk a 15-foot birdie to go 2-up on…

GB’s Evans calls opponents ’embarrassing’

Evans was knocked out in the singles in the first round by Kei Nishikori of JapanBritain's Dan Evans said his doubles opponents were "embarrassing" after becoming involved in an on-court row at the French Open.The British singles number one and Polish partner Hubert Hurkacz beat Dutchman Matwe Middelkoop and Brazilian Marcel Demoliner in the first…

US team walks off after ‘homophobic slur’

Collin Martin (pictured playing for former club Minnesota United) came out as gay in 2018Landon Donovan said his San Diego Loyal "would not stand" for bigotry having left the pitch in protest after an alleged homophobic comment was aimed at openly gay midfielder Collin Martin.An opposition player from Phoenix Rising was accused of making the…

As colleges reopened, many more young people got covid-19, CDC reports – msnNOW

Covid-19 cases surged nationally among 18- to 22-year-olds between Aug. 2 and Sept. 5, according to a report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which urged young adults as well as colleges and universities to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.Weekly cases among the age group jumped 55…