By Fidet Mansour
Algeria’s parliament recently outlawed the import of second-hand clothes, drawing the ire of thousands of people employed in the sector.
The measure introduced in the 2012 Finance Act, which was passed last month, may impact as many as 25,000 people working in Algeria’s used clothing trade.
Furthermore, the law will take a toll on “thousands of poor people who cannot buy new clothes and go for second-hand clothes, which represent good value products at low prices”, said Cherif Ferhi, who chairs the association representing importers of second-hand clothes.
But the government and parliament see the situation differently.
“Cleaning up the textiles sector has cost us 60 billion dinars,” explained Finance Minister Karim Djoudi. “What’s needed now is to create added value and not import more.”
The Finance Committee justified the ban on the grounds of “protecting national textiles production and public health against the risks presented by this used clothing”.
Mr Rezkallah, who represents the association of second-hand clothes retailers, was not convinced by the argument. Importers have invested in sophisticated equipment to process the clothes, he said, which prevents risks of contamination or illness. Only four months ago, the People’s National Assembly (APN) authorised the import of second-hand clothes but made a U-turn following a proposal from the Labour Party (PT). The government introduced the bill in the finance act.
Ferhi’s organisation threatened to strike back with a campaign in the run-up to the next elections to encourage the public to use protest votes against that party.
Amar Takdjout, Secretary-General of the National Federation of Textile and Leather Workers and a member of the Labour Party leadership, has stuck to his guns. He told the press that “this measure, which people both wanted and expected, would boost the textiles industry, and give it a chance to recover”.
But second-hand clothes importers are not going to give up the fight.
After holding a sit-in outside the parliament building, they plan to take up the matter with the president and the prime minister, in the hopes of making them overturn the ban.
According to the General Union of Algerian Retailers and Craftsmen (UGCA), there are 146 importers of used clothing and 3,000 wholesalers. Hundreds of thousands of other people are indirectly employed. They hope to enter the fray over the coming days and are planning demonstrations across the country.
The market in second-hand clothes is a booming business in Algeria. The Rue Hassiba in Algiers boasts the best-known outlets. Magharebia visited the area to gather traders’ reactions to the new law. Many were shocked and disappointed.
The market is attractive not only to poor people, but middle-class customers who are interested in imported products that are sometimes impossible to find in shops selling new clothes, said Amine, who owns a second-hand clothes shop.
“I have four children, and on average it costs me 40,000 dinars (306 euros) to buy clothes for them, which is much more than I earn,” said customer Madina Ouali. “I’ve been coming to second-hand clothes shops for a number of years now to find trousers and jumpers for my four sons. The prices are very affordable, and I think it’s a real shame that they might deprive poor families of this opportunity.”