The trade in used commodities has received limited geographical attention. The global production network (GPN) approach offers a theoretical frame through which to explore how second-hand goods, such as used cars, are traded internationally. The structure of a trade network and the tensions within it are researched through an inductive empirical GPN method and the embeddedness of powerful actors is related to context specific discourse. This article contributes to the analysis of the links between production and consumption through investigating informal and corrupt economic networks and exploring how a trade flow is embedded in a patrimonial state. The empirical case study demonstrates how used commodities are re-produced through political and cultural processes. In Japan a strict inspection regime excludes many used cars from the domestic market, some of which are exported via South Africa for sale in Mozambique. Embedded actors, including Pakistani trading families, play key roles in the governance of this international trade network. Corrupt individuals within the Mozambican customs service exert power at the import node to extract rent from this trade network, but the official neoliberal narrative of ‘development success’ in Mozambique constrains space for critique of their actions. Discussing the example of used car imports demonstrates how there are political structures which enable actors to have agency in trade networks and this shows how studies of international commodity flows have to stretch beyond the immediate manifestation of trade networks and chains to capture the dynamics of power relations.