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29565: Stephen Jacob - News article (fwd)
Article published in today's Wall Street Journal. See below.
Haiti's Trade Push Hits
New Political Head Wind
Lawmakers Look Askance
At Effort to Ease Tariff Rule
Amid Globalization Concern
By GREG HITT
November 27, 2006; Page A6
WASHINGTON -- Haiti's struggle to persuade Congress to help its apparel makers
underscores a new reality: In the political climate on Capitol Hill, even small
trade gestures face big hurdles.
Haiti is trying to secure passage of an initiative that would allow the
Caribbean country to use non-American-made material in garments destined for
the U.S., while still qualifying for duty-free access. Currently, Haitian
garments must be made from material produced in the U.S., or in some cases from
the Caribbean region, to get duty-free treatment. Using foreign-made fabric,
such as from China, could significantly lower production costs for Haitian
garments makers and make their goods more competitive in global markets.
Haiti exported $447 million in goods to the U.S. in 2005, a fraction of total
U.S. imports. Haitian officials say the deal could create as many as 40,000
sorely needed jobs there.
Lawmakers from textile-heavy states, worried the initiative would result in the
widespread use of inexpensive Chinese fabric by Haitian garment makers,
temporarily got the deal shelved earlier this fall. Haiti and a diverse group
of supporters -- including the Catholic Church, American companies and musician
Wyclef Jean -- have since renewed the campaign to push through the deal. But
with voter concern over globalization having tipped important races in midterm
elections and helped Democrats retake Congress, Haiti now faces an even-tougher
environment, trade experts said.
"There's going to be a pronounced change of tone, from a period of
accommodation and negotiation to litigation and enforcement," said Dan Ikenson,
associate director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato
Institute, a free-market think tank.
Mr. Ikenson said small countries like Haiti aren't going to find much political
support in Washington as lawmakers from both parties pull back from free-trade
initiatives. Peru and Colombia, which have sealed deals with the U.S. that
await congressional approval, could also be affected.
Underscoring the sensitivity of the trade issue, the House earlier this month
failed to pass legislation that would end Cold War-era trade restrictions on
Vietnam and give it the same benefits as other U.S. trading partners in the
World Trade Organization. The bill's defeat shocked the Bush administration,
which had hoped Congress would approve the measure in time for the president's
visit to Vietnam last week for a regional summit.
As needy as Haiti may be, lawmakers from textile-producing states and industry
lobbyists say a similar fate could befall the proposed Haiti bill. They contend
the measure would open a new loophole in U.S. trade laws, exposing already
stressed domestic producers to new levels of foreign competition.
"We can stop it," pledged Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of
Textile Organizations, the largest U.S. textile-industry group. "If Vietnam
shows anything, it will fail."
The increased protectionist environment is a cause of concern for Haiti's
finance minister, Daniel Dorsainvil, who was in town earlier this month trying
to drum up support among U.S. lawmakers for the Haiti bill. At the start, he
was hopeful of gathering support, but after making the rounds for two days, he
conceded, "It's not 100% guaranteed."
The Haiti trade proposal has been in the works for years, but really emerged as
a divisive issue this fall. Perhaps the most controversial proposal on the
table would allow Haiti garment makers to produce as much as 60 million square
yards of woven apparel, such as chinos and denim jeans, with foreign-made
material, while still qualifying for duty-free access to the U.S. Haiti's
backers say that accounts for less than 1% of the U.S.'s overall apparel
imports each year.
Supporters say the deal would give Haiti greater flexibility to meet the
requests of retailers, and is needed to restore some competitive edge Haiti
lost after Congress conferred special trade benefits last year on the Dominican
Republic and five Central American nations.
Haiti is by far the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with four-fifths
of its 8.3 million people living in poverty, and newly elected president René
Préval is grappling with the spread of AIDS, unreliable electrical service and
criminal gangs, as he seeks to revive the economy. "We need these jobs," said
At the end of September, House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, a
California Republican, folded the Haiti measure into a larger trade package
aimed at helping poor countries, including in Africa. But only days after the
package was introduced, Mr. Johnson and other textile lobbyists, working with
House allies, persuaded Republican leaders to shelve the bill, after raising
alarms about the Haiti measure. The maneuvering underscored the political
leverage wielded by the textile industry.
After the setback, a loose coalition of business and religious interests with
ties to Haiti began working quietly to revive the proposal. On Sept. 26, the
day after the bill was pulled, the Catholic archbishop of Cincinnati wrote to
House Majority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, to urge
An executive at Cintas Corp., an Ohio-based uniform firm with an apparel plant
in Haiti, called Mr. Boehner's office. "For Haiti, it's a big deal," said Glenn
Larsen, Cintas's vice president of manufacturing. Mr. Larsen said the proposed
trade benefits for Haiti would allow his company to nearly double the work
force at its plant there from 1,100.
At the time, Mr. Boehner said he would be open to reviving the bill after the
As lawmakers left to campaign in late September, Haiti's allies built support
among voters. Father Andrew Small, a trade strategist at the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Biships, distributed an alert to 1,000 Catholic leaders around the
country, urging them to press lawmakers to back the bill. He distributed a
letter signed by leaders of the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran
Church, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church to every
The week after the midterm elections, Mr. Dorsainvil, Haiti's finance minister,
arrived in Washington to make a push for the legislation. His timing was
ill-fated: That day, the Vietnam bill went down on the House floor.
Undaunted, Mr. Dorsainvil toured Capitol Hill with Haiti's ambassador to the
U.S. and Mr. Jean, the musician, who also is the ambassador's nephew. They
visited several lawmakers, including Rep. Charles Rangel, the New York Democrat
who is set to take over the House Ways and Means Committee, the starting point
for all trade bills in Congress. They also met with Mr. Boehner's chief of
Mr. Jean later performed at a Capitol Hill reception, urging staffers,
lawmakers and lobbyists to step up efforts for Haiti. A spokesman for Mr.
Boehner said no formal decision has been made about how to proceed. But House
Republican leaders have discussed bringing the Africa and Haiti package to a
vote in early December, when Congress is expected to make another run at
approving the Vietnam measure.
Mr. Rangel is supportive, suggesting that he isn't a knee-jerk opponent of free
trade but sees moral and foreign-policy reasons for helping Haiti. Being able
to see trade in those terms could help Mr. Rangel reach across party lines,
since the Bush administration at times defends its own trade priorities in
The Vietnam and Haiti-Africa packages could face resistance. Rep. Robin Hayes,
a Republican who represents a textile-heavy district in North Carolina, led the
opposition against Haiti earlier this fall, and he is less inclined to
compromise now. Mr. Hayes had expected to cruise to re-election, but
encountered a challenge from a Democrat who made much of the congressman's
support for the Central America Free Trade Agreement in 2005. Nov. 7's election
results were so close that a full recount is likely.
When lawmakers returned the week after the election, Mr. Hayes chided
Republican leaders for bringing up the Vietnam legislation. He voted against
the bill, and said he is opposed to helping Haiti if that trade deal comes up
"It's a way for China to get around quota agreements in place," a Hayes
Write to Greg Hitt at firstname.lastname@example.org
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