The value of second-hand clothes and footwear imported by traders in Kenya dropped by Sh600.4 million in the three months to March compared to a similar period last year on uncertainty about the Covid-19 pandemic in key source markets.
New figures by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows the value of shipment of the merchandise contracted to Sh4.79 billion between January and March from Sh5.39 billion a year earlier.
This marked the first drop in many years and came at a time key source markets such as China, the US and European countries had already instituted Covid-19 containment.
The import bill for second-hand clothes, popularly called mitumba, thinned by Sh145 million, or 3.58 percent, to Sh3.92 billion from Sh4.07 billion in the first quarter of 2019, the KNBS data indicates.
Expenditure on footwear imports, on the other hand, dipped 34.46 percent, or Sh454.80 million, in the January-March 2020 period to Sh864.9 million compared with Sh1.32 billion traders spent in the first quarter of 2019.
Business managers had painted a picture of weak circulation of cash in the economy which had eroded the consumer purchasing power, thus hurting demand even before Covid shocks struck, according to findings of Stanbic Bank Kenya’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI).
The closely-watched index measures monthly business deals in the private sector by interviewing corporate managers largely in services and manufacturing sectors.
Higher quality and relatively lower prices for mitumba have continued to drive demand for the merchandise at the expense of locally-made clothes amid higher margins enjoyed by the traders largely in informal markets.
The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) imposed a temporary ban on the merchandise in line with one of its standards, which prohibits buying second-hand clothes from countries experiencing epidemics.
The move was taken to protect shoppers from the risk of contracting the contagious Covid-19 pandemic through imported second-hand clothes.
The disease has, since mid-March infected more than 7,000 persons and killed more than 150 by yesterday.
Local apparel firms, however, want the temporary ban to be made permanent to help grow and develop the local textiles sub-sector in line with manufacturing pillar of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ambitious “Big Four” agenda.
Trade Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina has given Kebs the go-ahead to explore the possibility of putting in place guidelines which could enable resumption of importation of the merchandise without exposing dealers and customers to the risk of contracting the virus.