With a final determination from the U.S. government pending regarding the status of African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) benefits for the East African Community countries Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda, the topic of trade preference and the proposed East African Community ban on secondhand clothing exported from the United States has erroneously taken a political party-driven turn.
A recent op-ed in The Daily Caller by former assistant United States Trade Representatives Rosa Whitaker and Gail Strickler irresponsibly presents an array of misinformation regarding the U.S. trade industry and the Secondary Materials and Textiles Association (SMART) — so much so, it appears to be written as more a diatribe of anti-Trumpism than a factual argument about U.S. trade. (RELATED: Trump’s America First-ism Is Clashing With East Africa’s Development)
Contrary to the misinformation stated by Whitaker and Strickler, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has been trying to negotiate a solution to the matter of used clothing for the past two years.
Despite the statement by Whitaker and Strickler regarding the USTR operating under President Trump’s “America First-ism,” the U.S. position was formulated during the second term of the Obama administration because the East African Community countries are violating the terms of the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The act, commonly called AGOA, requires participating beneficiary countries to make progress toward becoming market-based economies and remain open to U.S. trade and investment. The proposed ban by these countries on the import of used clothing clearly violates both of those requirements.
SMART member companies fill a desperately needed clothing gap, preventing African economies from propelling into crisis. Whitaker and Strickler recklessly state that the United States exports Chinese manufactured goods. To the contrary, SMART members export high quality, sorely needed secondhand clothing. A U.S. clothing ban favors imports of cheap Chinese clothing which will annihilate African textile manufacturing, causing generational repercussions and depression.
The USTR under both President Obama and President Trump supports free and open trade markets. The textile manufacturing and used clothing industries are not mutually exclusive, however, only a small proportion of these countries’ populations can afford to buy new clothing. The market for any new clothing produced would naturally be the United States and other developed countries. By banning the import of used clothing, they are forcing their poor population to buy expensive new clothing which they cannot afford.
If the African ban moves forward, 180,000 U.S. jobs would be lost. East African countries are acting illegally and putting their people at risk. Economically, the United States is a reasonable import market for African manufactured new clothing just as Africa is an appropriate market for U.S. secondhand clothing. The textile recycling industry simply seeks to fill this demand and help the East African Community until those countries are ready to build a textile industry of their own.
When the USTR implemented the African Growth and Opportunity Act, we were assured AGOA incorporated tools to promote sound economic policy for Africa. We request only that the tools of AGOA be put to work to obtain a fair outcome for our U.S. members and their employees.
Jackie King is the executive director of the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART).
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.