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#1364: Haiti/DR: Free trade in goods, free trade in human beings? - A reply


According to those who accepted the economic prescription for Haiti recently 
administered by the international financial institutions, import tariffs 
could not be realistically sustained because the Haitian State was incapable 
of controlling its ports and borders. The argument was that the State could 
not depend on revenue from import tariffs because it did not possess the 
resources or personnel to run an efficient Customs service, and therefore it 
would be better to abandon tariffs, and allow the free marker to stimulate 
the economy. The loss in revenue resulting from eradication of import tariffs 
would be made good by international loans and grants until such time as the 
economy had been overhauled and made competetive by the forces of the free 
market, and a streamlined and rationalised State machine would be able to 
raise revenue by the taxation of new businesses and individuals.

That was the idea... 

In fact what has happened is that the Haitian economy has been devastated by 
the influx of foreign goods now that import tariffs have been all but 
eliminated. The destructive effect on domestic production, of rice imported 
from the US has been referred to many times. Add to that the anecdotal 
evidence of the crushing of Haitian plantain production by cheap imports from 
the DR. Now we read (thanks to Yacine Khelladi's snips from DR newspapers) 
that "Exports to Haiti (from the DR) during the first six months of the year 
(1999) increased 108%, according to the Dominican Center for the Promotion of 
Exports. Exports were US$32.56 million, up from US$15.63 for the same period 
in 1998. The principal export products were: steel rods, eggs, zinc sheets, 
rice, crackers, herring, and batteries."

Is it possible to see in this, that free trade in goods is undermining an 
already incredibly weak Haitian economy? Yet it is the businesses in the DR 
that are the main beneficiaries - the same sector that has for years 
benefitted from the exploitation of cheap Haitian labour that has been set to 
work in sugar production, construction, and serving the tourist sector. Now 
the authorities in the Dominican Republic want to stop the free movement of 
Haitians across the border. They want the Haitian State to control the 
border, and allow Haitian labour to cross only when it is needed.

Isn't this ridiculous? - expecting the same Haitian state, that is apparently 
too inefficient to levy import tariifs, to control the flow of human beings 
across the border. Are these human beings, these Haitians, who are driven to 
cross the border to look for work, doing so perhaps because the Haitian 
economy has been further weakened by the unrestricted import of Dominican 
goods that are cheaper than Haitian goods thanks in part but in no small 
measure to the input of cheap Haitian labour over the decades......