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# 112: Caribbean-Haiti (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By TONY FRASER
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, July 7 (AP) -- The Caribbean Community is
accepting Haiti as its 15th member, but experts say that joining the trade
bloc is unlikely to immediately help the country's depressed economy.
Haiti was to officially join the Caribbean Community later Wednesday
with President Rene Preval's signing of a membership agreement at the trade
bloc's summit in Trinidad, Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said.
Haiti will become a voting member on Jan. 1, Haitian Foreign Minister
Fritz Longchamps said.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but its 8
million Creole-speaking people number more than the populations of all the
Caribbean Community member countries combined.
A leading Haitian economist cautioned there would be little immediate
effect on the Haitian economy, since most of the country's trade is with
the United States and the European Union.
"Haiti has joined a regional forum. That is a political victory,"
economist Kesner Pharel said. "But neither imports nor exports will grow in
the near future."
Trinidad exports gasoline and Guyana sells rice -- both important
imports in Haiti -- but except for soft drinks, Haitian demand for
Caribbean products already on the market is unlikely to increase much,
About 80 percent of the Haitian work force is jobless or underemployed,
spurring fears among some Caribbean countries that Haitian workers could
flood more developed island nations.
On Tuesday, the Caribbean Community set a June 2000 deadline for an
agreement on free movement of workers with certain skills between member
Haitian exports amounted to more than $300 million last year and are
expected to increase by about 20 percent this year. Factory products such
as clothing and electronics accounted for much of the sales, while coffee,
cocoa and handicrafts accounted for 30 percent.
Haiti's imports last year amounted to about $600 million.
The tourism industry is still weak; Haiti has only about 1,000 hotel
rooms, and its communications system is unreliable.
More than two years of political uncertainty has scared investors away
from Haiti and prevented economic reforms.