US warns Kenya in push to bar second-hand clothes imports

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Workers at a textile factory that produces textiles for export to the US under Agoa. AFP PHOTO

US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on Wednesday urged African countries to fulfil their obligations under the terms of Agoa, a preferential trade programme of considerable benefit to Kenya.

More than 66,000 jobs in Kenya are linked to Agoa, which earned the country Sh35.2 billion in textiles and apparel exports last year.

It is essential, Mr Ross declared at a US-Africa Business Summit, that “countries currently benefiting from trade preferences granted by the African Growth and Opportunity Act continue complying with eligibility requirements established by US law.”

That comment by a Trump administration cabinet member could be construed as a warning to Kenya and the other member-states of the East African Community.

The US-based Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association has lodged a complaint with a US government trade agency alleging that the EAC countries violated Agoa’s terms by deciding to bar imports of used clothing from the US beginning in 2019. The association wants the EAC countries declared ineligible to take part in Agoa.

Mr Ross, a 79-year-old billionaire investor, made the general reference to Agoa compliance in the course of a speech that served as the Trump team’s first major policy pronouncement regarding US-Africa relations. The commerce secretary spoke positively about Africa’s economic potential. He also suggested that Agoa offers important opportunities for development.

But Mr Ross hinted that Agoa, which gives 37 countries duty-free access to the US market for many products, may not be the Trump administration’s preferred instrument for trade relations with African nations.

“Bilateral trade agreements rather than large multilateral deals can be very effective tools” for African development, Mr Ross said in a keynote speech at the three-day summit sponsored by the Washington-based Corporate Council on Africa. He further suggested that African governments should treat US companies favourably.

Directly addressing African officials at the summit, Mr Ross urged that they “make sure US companies are in the best position possible to enter African markets and that those already there are successful.”

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