Trump ready to fight Rwanda over second-hand clothing imports

Rwandan President Paul Kagame shakes hands with US President Donald Trump during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on January 26, 2018 in Davos, eastern Switzerland. PHOTO | AFP
U.S. President Donald Trump meets President Paul Kagame of Rwanda during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The United States is set to ban duty-free treatment of clothing imports from Rwanda because of the African country’s decision to impose barriers on U.S. exports of secondhand clothing.

In a letter to Congress, President Trump said Rwanda’s stance violates terms of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the nation’s duty-free status will end in 60 days unless it lifts the barriers on secondhand clothes.

The AGOA trade program provides eligible sub-Saharan countries duty-free access to the United States on condition they meet certain statutory eligibility requirements, including eliminating barriers to U.S. trade and investment, among others.

U.S. officials began talks with the East African countries during the Obama administration. But with the exception of Kenya, which announced an about-face on the tariffs last year, the barriers remained in place, prompting the complaint from U.S. industry.

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney in remarks over the suspension of Rwanda said Trump’s determinations underscore his commitment to enforcing U.S. trade laws and ensuring fairness in trade relationships.

After a review, the U.S. trade representative agreed that the import ban “harms the U.S. used clothing industry and is inconsistent” with rules governing AGOA. Participating countries are required to adhere to a market economy and move toward the “elimination of barriers to U.S. trade and investment.”

“Based on the results of the review, the President determined that Rwanda is not making sufficient progress toward the elimination of barriers to U.S. trade and investment, and therefore is out of compliance with eligibility requirements of AGOA,” said Mahoney.

“The President believes suspension of these benefits, instead of termination of Rwanda’s status as an AGOA beneficiary, would allow for continued engagement with the aim of restoring market access and thereby bringing Rwanda into compliance with the AGOA eligibility requirements.”

But the United States is continuing AGOA benefits for Tanzania and Uganda because both have taken steps toward eliminating used clothing tariffs and committed not to phase in a ban of these products, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said in a separate statement.

“I commend Tanzania and Uganda for taking corrective steps to address the United States’ concerns,” Deputy U.S. Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney said in a statement. “We have and will continue to work with Rwanda to resolve this situation.”

Trump isn’t the first American president to go after an African nation over AGOA.

In 2015 President Barack Obama on  terminated Burundi’s eligibility for the trade program in response to President Nkurunziza’s crackdown on opposition leaders following Nkurunziza’s return to power that year.

In 2016 he also suspended South Africa’s participation because the country missed a deadline to allow tons of U.S. chicken and pork imports into the country.

South Africa expressed concerns about the health standards of those meat products.

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