Reuters

Early last year, weeks after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, a little known American trade association filed a petition with the US Trade Representative.

That seven-page letter set Africa in the cross-hairs of the new administration’s ‘America First’ trade ideology, pitting the world’s largest economy against tiny Rwanda over an unlikely US export: cast-off clothes.

In March, the USTR warned Rwanda it would lose some benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), America’s flagship trade legislation for Africa, in 60 days after it increased tariffs on second-hand clothes to support its local garment industry.

“The president’s determinations underscore his commitment to enforcing our trade laws and ensuring fairness in our trade relationships,” Deputy US Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney said, announcing the decision.

The 60-day grace period expires on May 28.

But no matter the outcome, the row is further straining Washington’s relations with Africa at a time when it is being aggressively courted by America’s global competitors, not least China.

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