Dar es Salaam — The government has not yet officially banned importation of secondhand clothes (mitumba), a senior officer has said, reiterating that a recent import duty increase was merely a step towards nurturing the growth of the local textile industry.
Speaking to The Citizen on sidelines of last week's breakfast meeting between the Confederation of Tanzania Industry (CTI) and Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr Adelhelm Meru said though the policy to ban mitumba does exist, its implementation has not yet started.
"This is what we told them (United States trade bodies) when we met recently... .We never said we are banning second-hand clothes... .We only said that we are building the capacity for our local industries and that is what exactly what our team of experts said during a recent negotiation with the US trade bodies," Dr Meru said.
In July, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda made submissions against their potential loss of benefits from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) during an out-of-cycle review meeting called by the US Trade Representative's office.
The review came after dealers of Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (Smart) in the US filed comments earlier this year requesting the Trade Policy Staff Committee in their country to launch a review of the Agoa benefits for Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.
The US-based group, which represents US-based used-clothing companies, claims the East African Community (EAC) countries violated Agoa terms by their decision in February to phase out imports of used clothing beginning in 2019.
Smart believes the ban "directly contradicts requirements that Agoa beneficiaries work towards eliminating barriers to United States trade and investment and promote 'economic policies to reduce poverty."
In its petition, Smart complained that the ban "imposed significant hardship" on the U.S. used-clothing industry and violated Agoa rules.
The US has not yet replied to the submissions by Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda but Dr Meru told The Citizen that the countries' position has been clear and that it only seeks to boost domestic clothes manufacturing.
"Our position is very clear. We have continued to allow mitumba clothes to come into our countries. At present, we have no ban in place and that position is clear... claims that we have banned those products are totally untrue and our team clarified to US authorities over the matter," said Dr Meru.
He said the ban was a long-term plan that could take five years or more before it gets implemented, pending the development of a strong industrial base to manufacture clothes locally.
"This is a decision that members of the East African countries reached with the hope that when we begin to implement it, we will have improved our local industries," noted Dr Meru.
He said the government was striving to revisit the textile and clothing industry and the sector at large to ramp production so that it is able to produce quality products that could compete in global market.
"It is when such a strong capacity is built that is when you can talk of banning," he insisted.
The government, he said, was still committed to Agoa.