Why is the used clothing trade such a hot-button issue?

Shannon Brady and Sheng Lu (2018). Why is the used clothing trade such a hot-button issueJust-Style

Key Findings:

First, the world used clothing trade has grown significantly over the past ten years. Statistics from the United Nations show that the value of world used clothing trade (HS code 630900) has quickly increased from $1.8bn in 2006 to $3.7bn in 2016, an increase of 106 percent. Between 2006 and 2016, the value of world used clothing trade enjoyed a 7.6 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), which was almost double the pace of 3.4 percent CAGR for new clothing trade (HS chapters 61 and 62) over the same period.

Second, the world used clothing trade flow is highly unbalanced. On the one hand, the developed economies are the dominant suppliers of used clothing to the world. In 2016, nearly 40 percent of the world’s used clothing exports came from three countries alone: the United States (15 percent), the United Kingdom (13 percent) and Germany (11 percent). Data also shows that the European Union and the United States together stably accounted for as much as 65 percent of the value of world clothing exports between 2006 and 2016. The other country worth mentioning is China, which is quickly becoming another leading used clothing exporter in the world. In 2016, China’s used clothing exports totaled US$218m from only US$0.32m in 2006, an increase of more than 684 percent!

On the other hand, most of the world used clothing exports end up sold in the developing countries, especially the least developed ones. For example, in 2016, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as a whole imported approximately 20 percent of the world’s used clothing, far more than any other regions in the world. By value, the top three individual importers of used clothing in 2016 are all developing countries as well, namely Pakistan (6.0 percent), Malaysia (5.8 percent) and Ukraine (4.9 percent).

Third, trade policies regulating used clothing trade often raise controversies. While trade barriers on new clothing attract much of the public attention, the used clothing trade is facing even heavier and trickier restrictions of various kinds. The World Trade Organization (WTO) data shows that in 2016 the average applied tariff rate for used clothing imports was 19.3 percent, higher than 15.4 percent of new clothing (HS Chapters 61 and 62). Of the total 180 countries covered by the WTO tariff database, 115 (or 64 percent) set an equal or higher tariff rate for used clothing than the new one. Further, it is not rare to see extremely high import tariff rates and other quantitative restrictions applied to used clothing trade. For example, in 2016 the applied most-favored-nation (MFN) ad valorem equivalent tariff rate for used clothing was as high as 356.9 percent in Uzbekistan, 167.3 percent in Zimbabwe, 149.2 percent in South Africa, 116.8 percent in Rwanda and 100 percent in Vietnam.

After all, because of the complicated social, economic and political factors involved, how to regulate and manage used clothing trade remains a key challenge facing the world community.