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Haitian Economy Boosted by Garment Exports to the US

Haiti’s garment industry—which has grown by about 45 percent since 2010’s deadly earthquake in Port-au-Prince—accounts for as much as 90 percent of the island nation’s exports and according to statements delivered at a recent World Trade Organization (WTO) forum, the majority of those goods are bound for the United States.

“We take great interest in Haiti’s success and support measures that will maximize that success as broadly as possible for the Haitian people. Haiti’s garment sector, in particular, is helping to forge a better life for workers and spurring the kind of sustainable, broad-based growth and development that is possible when trade and investment are combined with respect for core labor standards,” Christopher Wilson, deputy chief of mission, said last week at the WTO trade policy review of Haiti.

He also noted that the Better Work program, launched in 2009 to cover all Haitian garment factories exporting to the U.S. market, continues to “help boost competitiveness in the sector while serving as one of the world’s more robust labor monitoring programs.”

Accounting for 83 percent of Haiti’s exports in 2014, the U.S. renewed and extended preferential access for Haitian goods earlier this year and while the country’s GDP grew by only 2.8% in 2015, Wilson pointed out that exports of manufactured goods continued to grow, alongside consumer spending and public investment.

In July, for instance, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) announced plans to invest $4 million in the South Korean-owned Wilbes Haitian S.A. to expand its manufacturing capacity and create 1,000 jobs. In addition, the IFC said it would mobilize a $4 million parallel loan from the Inter-American Development Bank.

But Haiti still faces many challenges on its quest to expand investment and economic growth.

“Investor protections are weak, contract enforcement is problematic, energy costs are high and infrastructure is inadequate,” Wilson stated, adding that political uncertainty has also made private investors hesitant. “Continued diligence on labor rights in the garments sector and changes that would improve labor regulation throughout the rest of the economy can further the goals of broad-based development and enhance the climate for investors.”