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East African nations that are en-route to banning the importation of used clothes may soon pay the price after Washington said it will impose trade penalties in retaliation to what it sees as a blockage of free trade.

The US State Department’s Harry Sullivan, the Africa Bureau acting head of the economic and regional affairs, said Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have until next week to reverse the decision or face the penalties.

The East African leaders are expected to meet at the EAC Heads of State Summit on Infrastructure and Health Financing and Development in Kampala, Uganda on February 23. “I believe the results of the meeting next week will determine how we proceed,” Mr Sullivan said in a conference call with reporters.

East African Community (EAC) member states agreed two years ago to impose phased ban on used clothing imports (known as mitumba) over a three-year period beginning 2019.

Kenya subsequently withdrew from that agreement following US threats to end its eligibility for duty-free clothing exports to the US market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).

U.S. gives three states ultimatum to reverse mitumba ban