Thursday, April 15, 2010

US:Clinton, Bush Urge Trade Preferences For Haiti


Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush urge Congress to increase trade preferences for quake-ravaged Haiti.

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are urging members of Congress to allow a quake-ravaged Haiti to triple the amount of knit and woven fabrics it currently exports to the U.S. under a duty-free access trade legislation.

The increase, the former presidents wrote this week in a letter, would help attract the kinds of investments needed to help create thousands of new jobs in Haiti, which is struggling to recover from the Jan. 12, 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

The quake left some 300,000 dead, according to the government, and an equal number of Haitians injured.

Bush and Clinton are also seeking an extension from eight to 15 years of the trade preferences in the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE II) legislation.

The request, said Clinton spokesman Angel Urena, is in ``keeping with the Clinton -Bush Haiti Fund's mission to respond to near-term unmet needs in post-earthquake Haiti.''

The goal, he added, is not just to ``help the people of Haiti rebuild their lives and livelihoods, but to build back better.''

Last month, the two former presidents visited as co-chairs of the Clinton Bush Fund, a private U.S. fundraising effort, initiated by President Obama.


During the visit, they learned that three major Korean manufacturing firms, capable of hiring between 10,000 and 30,000 workers, are interested in investing in Haiti.

However, the firms are reluctant to do so because of the limited benefits of the HOPE 2 legislation.

``This investment could triple the employment levels in the Haitian apparel sector,'' Clinton and Bush wrote in the letter.

``Furthermore because the project would also require new industrial space and infrastructure, it would create thousands of construction jobs in Haiti.''

Since the inception of HOPE, Haiti has attracted

14 new companies and created an additional 16,000 jobs. Today, there are a total of 28 companies and 28,000 workers in an industry that once offered as many as 130,000 jobs.

Haiti's government's has been unsuccessfully lobbying for the increase. Critics argue that it has yet to take full advantage of the current benefits, and the increase could spur job losses elsewhere.

``The reason we don't make more is because we don't have the big guys to make more,'' said Georges Sassine, the Haitian government's liaison on HOPE, who dismisses the job lost argument.

Under HOPE II, Haiti can export 70 million square meters of fabric duty free. The 250 million square meters that it is now seeking would represent just 1 percent of all U.S. textile imports, Sassime said.

``All we are saying is let us manufacture that 1 percent,'' he said.


Still the garment industry has critics, who argue that the government is advocating sweat shops and that is not the way to rebuild Haiti.

``Textiles, garment manufacturing is not the panacea, nor is it the base on which you build an economy,'' Sassine said. ``However, it gives you a jump start. It's employing a bunch of people, giving them a way to pay [for] school for their children and to eat correctly. At the same time, you -- who are responsible for the country -- have to look at an economic development program.''

Source: MiamiHerald

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