By David Himbara
On March 29, 2018, President Donald Trump notified the Congressional leaders that he would in 60 days suspend Rwanda from AGOA. Under AGOA, products from low-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) enter the U.S. market duty-free. AGOA is a means to assist SSA to stimulate trade and development through exports.
Trump gave the following reasons for suspending Rwanda:
“The Government of Rwanda continues to impose barriers to United States trade, specifically, barriers affecting certain United States exports of apparel products. In spite of intense engagement by United States officials with the Government of Rwanda, the United States has been unable to resolve this matter. I have therefore determined that the Government of Rwanda is not making continual progress toward the elimination of barriers to United States trade and investment, as required by section 104 of the AGOA…
I will continue to assess whether the Government of Rwanda is making continual progress toward the elimination of barriers to United States trade and investment in accordance with the AGOA eligibility requirements, as well as whether this suspension of benefits is effective in promoting compliance with those requirements.”
On April 3, 2018, Kagame answered Trump on this on this matter as follows:
”The notification by the United States on suspension of duty-free status for Rwandan apparel products under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) follows a decision by East African countries to raise tariffs on second-hand clothing imports, in order to promote local manufacturing capacity in garment and other industries.
AGOA is a commendable unilateral gesture to African countries, including Rwanda, meant to promote trade and development through exports. The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is at the discretion of the United States.”
By stating that ”the withdrawal of AGOA benefits is at the discretion of the United States,” Kagame is telling Trump to go jump. Kagame will not allow cheap American products into the Rwandan market even if it means losing AGOA.
Meanwhile, when Kagame says that the decision to block second-hand clothing imports was made by East African countries, he is telling a half truth. Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda are no longer party to that decision. Kagame’s Rwanda is all alone in denying entry to American products.
Who will suffer from this self-inflicted punishment?
The biggest losers in this self-inflicted punishment are the Rwandan people, most of whom live in rural areas. With a per capita income of $702, Rwanda is one of the poorest countries in the world. There are only 17 countries that are poorer than Rwanda on this planet. Most of Rwandans cannot afford to buy new clothes. Even if they could, there is no textile industry in Rwanda beyond a couple garment-makers. All yarns and fabrics used by garment-makers in Rwanda are imported. Abandoned by his fellow presidents in East Africa and suspended from AGOA, Kagame may not even remember what he is fighting about.