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Uganda bans imports of used clothing from 'dead people'

FILE PHOTO: Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni wants trade barriers to come down, in Kisozi

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has banned the importation of used clothing into the east African country, saying it stifles the development of local textile industries and that the clothes belonged to dead Westerners.

Like most African countries, Uganda has traditionally imported large quantities of used clothing, which some consumers prefer because it is low-cost.

But local manufacturers complain the dumping of second-hand apparel swamps the market, undermining Uganda's ability to climb the value chain of the cotton and textile industry.

"They are for dead people. When a White person dies, they gather their clothes and send them to Africa," Museveni said on Friday.

At least 70% of garments donated to charity in Europe and the United States end up in Africa, according to Oxfam, a British charity. Reuters was not able to immediately ascertain what percentage of the donated clothing came from people who had died.

"We have people here who produce new clothes but they cannot infiltrate the market," Museveni said at a groundbreaking ceremony of nine factories in the Sino-Uganda Mbale Industrial Park in Mbale city.

Uganda is a significant producer of cotton but much of it is exported in semi-processed form, with the value of its cotton exports ranging between $26-76 million per year in the decade to 2022, according to Uganda's central bank.

The East African Community, a regional economic grouping of which Uganda is a member, agreed in 2016 to a complete ban on used clothing imports by 2019, but Rwanda was the only country to enact it.

As a result, the United States in 2018 suspended Rwanda's right to export clothing duty-free to the United States, one of the benefits of the United States' tariff and quota-free African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

The U.S. embassy in Kampala did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Museveni said the ban would also extend to electricity meters and electric cables, saying they should be bought from factories in Uganda.

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema and Hereward Holland; editing by Christina Fincher)