A delegation has returned to the UK after a bid to persuade east African states to reverse their decision to outlaw imports of used textiles and leather goods.
On 2 March 2016, heads of state of the East African Community (EAC), an intergovernmental organisation of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, passed a directive to phase out such products by 2019.
This has been a concern for the Textile Recycling Association (TRA) in the UK because of the jobs they fear will be lost in this country as EAC members account for a quarter of the exports to Africa – the biggest global market for the UK.
The TRA also believes tens of thousands of people trading in imported clothing across the EAC will lose their livelihoods.
The US textiles recyclers’ organisation Smart is also concerned on both counts and has added its support.
Now Jalia Packwood, development officer at Bangor University Sustainability Lab, has visited ministers and other officials in east Africa in an initiative sponsored by the university, the TRA, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) and the French recyclers’ association Federec.
Packwood said the EAC directive was being taken very seriously by the partner states and they were working hard to ensure that it is implemented.
“It is therefore pertinent that the issue is handled carefully and responsibly by different partners to ensure that the best strategy is adopted by the EAC,” she said at the latest convention of BIR in Amsterdam.
“It is also important for the exporting countries to consider relevant and meaningful collaborations with the EAC in the textile sector to ensure that the people and the recycling sector do not suffer as a result of the directive.”
The Bangor-TRA response had suggested alternative strategies:
- Trade in used textiles to continue alongside the new textile industry that the EAC desires to develop
- Collaboration between the EAC and the countries that export used textiles to the region
- Sharing markets to allow balance of trade (exporting countries buying new clothes from the EAC with the exporting partners continue to access the EAC market)
- Sharing skills, knowledge and innovation to grow the recycling sector and the textile industry
- Using the trade to improve charity as well as social and medical sectors
Packwood said the World Bank would now take the lead with the different stakeholders to try to influence senior EAC representatives further.
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Alan Wheeler, director of the TRA (centre), also speaking at BIR, complained more generally of “erroneous reporting” on used clothing exports which, he said, added fuel to flawed arguments from supporters of bans on used clothing exports.
“The TRA is so frustrated by these types of misconception that we have teamed up with our equivalent trade association in North America (Smart) and issued a joint statement challenging these assertions and highlighting the really important benefits that our industry brings to the global economy, environment and to social wellbeing.”