The East African Community had given itself a deadline of 2019 to start phasing out importation of second-hand clothes from the US.
Commonly known as mitumba, the presidents of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi had agreed in 2016 to stop further importation from 2019, saying it would protect their nascent textile and leather industries.
Then things started to fall apart.
First, the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (Smart), a US lobby, argued the ban would amount to a trade barrier, violating the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (Agoa).
The Act, created during the George W Bush years, allows African countries like the EAC members to export goods to the US through tariffs.
Then the US government itself started giving warnings to each of the EAC countries: If any ban was imposed, they would lose the privilege of selling goods to the US and the attendant jobs that come with it.
Last year, Kenya acted first, pulling out of the EAC deal to ban mitumba.
Then Trade Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohammed told journalists that Nairobi was letting market forces determine what Kenyans want to buy between mitumba and new clothes produced locally.
“Our policy is, of course, that it is our desire to develop and promote our textile industry in our country to create more jobs for people in our country,” he argued.
“And through the transition of market forces we would like mitumba clothes to compete with clothes that are produced within East Africa, within Kenya, and if those products are more competitive and more consumer-friendly, then of course you will see a reduction in the mitumba business in our country,” he added.
Kenya survived the suspension, but Rwanda which went ahead with the plan, was recently removed from the Agoa beneficiaries list.
Tanzania and Uganda survived too.
For the US, an open mitumba market will guarantee the estimated $120 million sales into the East African Community.
Kenya, through Agoa, has sold goods worth $256 million (Sh25.6 billion) to the US this year— mainly apparel under this arrangement, according to the US Census Bureau.
In 2017, the trade with the US was worth Sh126 billion, more than half of it benefiting the US.
Under Agoa, Kenya sold about Sh40 billion worth of textiles and clothing into the US market with Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania selling a cumulative Sh4.3 billion.