52% of Uganda’s imported clothes are secondhand, URA data shows 

The largest percentage of clothes imported into Uganda is secondhand, according to data from URA. Photo / Michael Kakumirizi 

What you need to know:

  • The share of secondhand clothes remains high, making up the biggest percentage of textiles imported into the  country in the four years to June 2023

Uganda continues to register a steady supply of imported used clothes despite a reduction in the percentage due to high taxes and improved local capacity. 

In the four years to June 2023, imports of second-hand clothes rose by Shs74.8b, increasing from Shs366.5b in June 2020 to Shs441.3b. 

Second-hand clothes, which are categorised as worn clothing and other worn articles, according to Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) data, formed more than half of imported clothes in the year to June 2023. 

Data contained in the URA Annual Data Book indicates that the value of used clothes stood at 52.2 percent of the total import value for the 2022/23 financial year, which stood at Shs845.3b, compared to Shs441.3b for second clothes. 

However, the 52.2 percent was an 11.2 percent reduction from the 63.4 percent that formed the share of the textile and clothes total import bill in the 2019/20 financial year.

Government, under the East Africa Community Common External Tariff guidelines, imposed a 35 percent levy on used clothes in 2017 to support the development of the local textile industry. 

However, almost eight years later, second-hand clothes continue to dominate the import bill due to a largely scattered local textile industry that mainly relies on input imported from Asia and the Middle East. 

It is largely unclear why the demand for second-hand clothes continues to be high, but some suggestions indicate they are largely cheap and more durable compared to many of the imports from Asia. 

URA data indicates that in the four years to June 2023, the total textile import bill, including used and new clothes, has substantially increased, expanding by Shs267.8b or 68.3 percent from Shs577.6b to Shs845.3b. 

Data further indicates that Uganda imported new clothes, classified as articles of apparel and clothing accessories, knitted or crocheted worth Shs336b, which was almost triple the Shs105.5b recorded in the 2021/22 financial year. 

This was at least 39.7 percent of the total import textile bill during the period. 

The data also indicates that another Shs168.8b was spent on articles of apparel and clothing accessories, not knitted or crocheted, which was an increase from the Shs129.3b in the 2021/22 financial year. 

Uganda remains a net importer of textile, with a large dependence on imports from China, India, Vietnam, and Europe. The country also has a largely underdeveloped spinning and ginning sector, with data from the Cotton Development Authority showing that Uganda at least exports 90 percent of its cotton unprocessed.  

Uganda Manufacturers Association has previously asked government to invest in the textile sector by operationalising the Cotton, Textile, Apparel Strategy, which would lift the country’s capacity, instead of imposing restrictive levies.

Phased ban 

President Museveni while commissioning 16 factories at Sino Uganda-Mbale Industrial Park in Mbale City recently said the continued importation of used clothing stifles the development of local textile industries. 

Banning second-hand clothes may sound politically attractive to the local textiles, but it never usually succeeds.

“I have declared a war on second-hand clothes to promote African wear. We are going to stop the importation of second-hand clothes to create jobs from textile factories,” he said.                                                           

But the announcement generated debate with local manufacturers complaining that second-hand apparel was swamping the market, undermining the country’s cotton and textile industry.

During a special sitting by the leadership of the Kampala City Traders Association, traders urged government to either lift the ban or gradually phase out the importation of used clothes.