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#4167: Durban on Poincy's cotton textile idea (fwd)

From: Lance Durban <lpdurban@yahoo.com>

I like Poincy's recent post on agricultural economics, but
it comes with the usual scholarly disregard for the
difficulties of implementation.  Controlling imports in the
Haitian context to encourage import of machines and
discourage consumer items... Good luck!  Controlling the
exchange rate?... Poincy doesn't say exactly how he would
do it, but I hope he doesn't think the government could
simply prohibit or somehow limit private foreign exchange
transactions.  Monetary policy would be the way to control
the exchange rate, and that is what the Haitian Government
is already using... consciously or unconsciously.   

The view that Haiti is tied to the world economy whether it
wants to be or not is right on target, however, and one
that is too often overlooked.  What needs to be understood,
however is that, macro-economically speaking, this is not a
handicap.  Being a part of the world economy can and should
be used to a country's advantage, as several on the Corbett
list could no doubt demonstrate.

Where I really had to smile however, was Poincy's comment
on the cotton textile industry.  He said, and I quote: 

  There are enough materials in nature to use in getting
  the job done. How about a textile industry? Can Ayiti
  no longer produce cotton? Many economically successful
  countries (old and modern) have gone that road. I don't
  see why Ayiti can't. Alone the textile can carry the
  rest of the economy. Just think from the process of
  planting the seed to the wearing of a finish
  shirt/dress. Think in between the many different
  activities that will be created.

  Not much money is needed: just land, labor and simple
  inexpensive weaving and sowing (sic) equipments. With
  a textile industry in place, Ayiti can afford importing
  food to begin with. Considering what a cotton seed
  will become, it has a longer life cycle with more valued
  added than any other agricultural product. 

Each of those "many different activities" are industries by
themselves, and integrating them seamlessly is no small
task.  Yet if you don't somehow integrate them you end up
with an inferior US$50 cotton shirt that no one will buy.

Shortly before the embargo, a now defunct U.S. company
shipped an entire U.S. textile plant to Haiti with the idea
transforming raw cotton into cotton towels for hospital
use.  And the whole thing was set up and actually worked
for a few months just before the 1991 embargo!  Post
embargo the Haitian inheritor of the entire plant
considered ideas of sourcing the raw cotton in Egypt and
other low costs areas, but felt that it was simply
impossible to compete with China and others who could
supply the finished product from A to Z.  He recently
offered me the entire plant for $1 if I would simply move
it out of his building.  I mean this is big, heavy,
complicated equipment, and all used to make a simple,
skinny, little hospital towel!  It would cost a fortune to
make the plant functional again, and obviously finding
enough local cotton to make it operate with any kind of
efficiency would require major investment in another whole
industry... agriculture.  

OK, but why not a smaller scale, backyard towel, operation,
you might say.  My quick answer is, "Why bother"?   You can
probably buy a good hospital-grade towel for under a buck
on the world economy.

Lance Durban

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