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#5184: U.S. trade act could offer needed boost to Haiti's economy (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

U.S. trade act could offer needed boost to Haiti's economy
September 27, 2000 Web posted at: 11:19 AM (1519 GMT)

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti(Reuters) -- Haiti, as poor as it is, has seen
better days. Today, the currency, the gourde, has plunged to an all-time
low of 25 gourdes to  the U.S. dollar. Fuel prices nearly doubled three
weeks ago to match soaring international rates. And at the same time the
United States threatened to withhold  funds and aid if the
Haitian government did not strengthen democratic procedures before the
presidential vote in November. But there could be a glimmer of light at
the end of the tunnel come October, when Haiti is expected to
enjoy greater economic opportunities because of the implementation of a
U.S.trade agreement.  "He (President Clinton)must, he will, designate
Haiti," Richard Coles, president of Manufacturers Association
in Haiti (ADIH), said. "Because you can't tell 7 million Haitians, 'hey,
guys,we're not giving you this opportunity,' when the business
 community and government are trying their best to show pro-activeness
in complying with these requirements."Haiti, the Americas'
poorest country, is one of 24 Caribbean and Central American nations
that have applied to be eligible for enhanced trade preferences
 for the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA), scheduled to
take effect October 1. On May 18, Clinton signed into law the Trade and
Development Act of 2000,which includes the African Growth and
Opportunity Act (AGOA) and CBTPA, among other provisions.The measure
seeks to expand trade and create incentives for Sub-Saharan Africa and
the Caribbean Basin to continue reforming their economies. A White House
report on the Trade and Development Act said Caribbean Basin
countries have formed an increasingly important export market for U.S.
goods in recent years, and that 23 percent of Caribbean countries formed
the sixth-largest export market for U.S.goods in 1999. The CBTPA, also
known as the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), aims to provide
 greater economic opportunities by providing growth and expansion of the
textile and apparel sector in the Caribbean and Central Americas. CBI
benefits would allow unlimited duty-free access for apparel produced
from U.S. factories. CBI admission would also bring more factories and
jobs and increased imports to  the assembly sector,Haiti's main
generator of currency, said Kesner Pharel, president and director
general of Group Croissance, a business consulting firm in suburban
Petionville.  Coles, too, realizes the importance of Haiti's assembly
industry and believes that a CBI admission will enable the Caribbean
nation to tap into its unrealized potential.  "Haiti has the biggest
potential in manufacturing. Actually, ADIH has the vision to  make Haiti
to be the manufacturing platform on the Caribbean by 2005. Haiti is
 the last bastion of competitiveness in the Caribbean," he said. 
To be eligible, countries must follow certain labor standards, uphold  
anti-narcotics procedures,respect copyright law, as well as comply with
a number of other regulations. But given Haiti's booming drug trade and
fledgling democratic institutions, these benefits could be lost.
Haiti has become a major transshipment point and repository for drugs,
primarily cocaine, moving from South America to the United States. The
U.S.government estimates that 67 metric tons of cocaine passed through
Haiti in 1999 -- a 24 percent increase over the 1998 estimate of
 54 metric tons. Several weeks ago, the United States said that it would
not send observers or financial support to Haiti for its November 26
presidential election if the Haitian  government did not re-examine
skewed results from the May 21 vote, which an international monitor
declared fraudulent. Ten senatorial seats should have gone to           
second-round runoff since no candidate won with an absolute majority. 
Still, Washington's decision to withhold aid from the government should
not jeopardize Haiti's ability to enjoy CBI benefits, given that private
and nongovernmental organizations will continue to receive bilateral
aid. "The trade preferences aren't necessarily defined as bilateral U.S.
economic assistance. They are on a separate track," said Brendan Daly, a
spokesman for the United States Trade Representative (USTR). 
The USTR, a government agency responsible for developing and
coordinating U.S. international trade,commodity and direct investment
policy, makes a recommendation on the behalf of a country to CBI, and
then Clinton makes the final decision concerning eligibility. 
 Like Coles, others in Haiti's private sector felt that CBI and Haiti
would become a reality. "We do believe that it (CBI eligibility) will
work well for Haiti," Marie-Claude F. Bayard, general manager
for Classic Apparel, said. "I don't believe that there will
  be any constraints. I'm optimistic for the CBI, and that it will be a
success story for Haiti."