The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) has entered into a partnership agreement with the East Africa Trade and Investment Hub to ensure best-in-class manufacturing of goods destined for the US market from East Africa.

Signed yesterday (21 February) in Las Vegas, the agreement launches the 'East Africa Cotton, Textile and Apparel Initiative' to establish sustainable workforce development programmes and institutionalise environmental, social, labour and worker safety best practices in the region. The aim is to work with East African governments to raise industry standards, promote job creation, and increase trade and investment.

US retailers and East African businesses are expected to both benefit from the initiative. The Hub, a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) organisation, will work to help East African governments and private sector entities institutionalise the best practices and standards that US apparel, footwear, and travel goods sourcing companies require. It is hoping to support the creation of 45,000 jobs across Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda in the first three years of the initiative, as well as creating jobs and further growth in the US apparel, footwear, and travel goods sector.

Meanwhile, the AAFA says it will actively engage in advocacy activities before country governments in East Africa and lead private sector engagement. It will also "strengthen US manufacturing and support US jobs and economic growth" for its brands while encouraging companies and their suppliers to develop sustainable operations in East Africa.

East Africa is establishing itself as a key sourcing destination for global apparel, footwear, and travel goods buyers. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was recently renewed to 2025 and provides up to 35% in duty savings for eligible countries exporting to the US, is a major incentive.

The two organisations say the new initiative will further cement US and East African business partnerships under the Act.

"The American apparel, footwear, and travel goods industry has an interest in ensuring that US brands and goods are manufactured in accordance with best-in-class practices," says AAFA president and CEO Rick Helfenbein. "We are pleased to partner with the USAID East Africa Trade and Investment Hub on this important initiative."

The initiative is intended to deepen and complement a Memorandum Of Understanding (MoU) signed on 17 January 2014, among USAID, the American Apparel & Footwear Association and the African Cotton & Textile Industries Federation (ACTIF) to expand trade and investment linkages between the US and the sub-Saharan Africa cotton, textile and apparel sector.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association, a strong supporter of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, welcomed the deal.

"The agreement will provide many benefits to apparel, footwear, and travel goods companies by cutting red tape at the border, increasing supply chain transparency, and decreasing costs – benefits that will pass along value to American consumers, and potentially add to the 4m Americans already working in the industry. The agreement is a major breakthrough for the future of international trade."