HAITI: Garment industry undergoing a rebirth

PORT-AU-PRINCE:  Last year, Haiti's labor-intensive garment industry saw the closure of and the unemployment rolls grew by another 5,000. The U.S. HOPE Act, has shown ray of hope for the garment workers, which has added roughly 3,000 jobs in Haiti.

Now, Haiti's security situation has vastly improved and the rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns has been replaced with the automatic sounds of sewing machines.

Haiti's once-dying garment sector is undergoing a rebirth. HOPE, or the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act, provides duty-free access to the U.S. market for woven and knit clothing made in Haiti from fabrics from third countries. The legislation was passed by U.S. lawmakers in December, certified by President Bush in March and took effect in Haiti in June.

Now with only two years left on the legislation -- and only 3,000 jobs created thus far -- Haiti's government and garment sector are renewing their call to Congress to modify the legislation in the hope of producing the kinds of job growth and investments originally envisioned.

When Haiti first began lobbying for improved bilateral trade ties with the United States, proponents were seeking to remove all tariffs on apparel manufactured in the impoverished Caribbean nation, arguing that the measure would create an estimated 100,000 jobs in the apparel-manufacturing sector. But faced with strong opposition from U.S. textile companies, they had to settle for a much narrower trade bill -- HOPE. Supporters said it would create about 20,000 jobs within its first few months.

While Haiti has been receiving many inquiries about HOPE, they have failed to materialize into new factories being built, because of the details of the law, Haitian businessmen say. With the exception of two companies that recently moved to Haiti from the Dominican Republic, all of the new jobs are the result of expansions of existing woven apparel producers.

Years of political instability -- coupled with strong competition from China and other Asian countries -- have in recent years decimated the industry, which has gone from manufacturing more constructed garments to mostly assembling T-shirts.

Today there are about 20,000 workers employed at 17 apparel factories in the country. To change that, the country argues, improvements need to be made in the existing legislation.

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Added: November 27, 2007 Source: Agencies
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