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HAITI'S APPAREL INDUSTRY.

For each sewing machine that remains idle at Dietrich Siegel's factory here, life grows harder for at least five relatives who depended on the person who made a living at it, reports David Gonzalez In The N.Y. Times (Dec. 23, 2002). As Mr. Siegel, the V.P. of Classic Apparel, looked at rows of dozens of silent machines on a recent day, he lamented that he and his workers were losing not only money, but also time. In recent years he has been forced to close one factory and to sell another:

Haiti's manufacturing base has shrunk by half from its peak in the mid-1980's, down to 25,000 jobs, because of political instability. To try to reverse the decline in jobs, Haiti's manufacturers are lobbying the U.S. Congress to pass a trade act that would grant Haiti duty exemptions held by sub-Saharan nations since 2000. The bill would allow Haitian clothing factories, which now receive exemptions only if they use U.S. fabric, to use fabrics from other countries, where they might cost less. A bill has been sponsored and supported by an unlikely coalition of Democrats sympathetic to the embattled Haitian government and by Republicans just as critical of it, who see the measure as a way to jump-start the Haitian economy;

Manufacturers here say that if Congress were to approve such an exemption in its next session, factory jobs could triple. They also say it could spur other industries to invest in Haiti, whose advantage as the hemisphere's least expensive labor market has been outweighed by an infrastructure that has deteriorated, partly because of a freeze on foreign aid. "This is a noncontroversial issue," said Jean-Edouard Baker, a factory owner and past president of the Haitian Manufacturers' Association. "This is not aid going to the government. It is putting in place a structure that will encourage investment and create jobs. We desperately need jobs";

More than half of Haiti's population is unemployed or barely subsisting on less than a dollar a day, and the manufacturers say the situation is desperate. At its peak, Haitian industry produced everything from clothing and electronics to baseballs for the major leagues. Its economic free fall began after Jean-Claude Duvalier was ousted in 1986 and continued through the economic embargo of the early 1990's, when Haiti was isolated after a coup drove out the democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide;

Although Mr. Aristide returned to Haiti after the American invasion in 1994, manufacturing jobs did not. Political deadlocks and accusations that Haiti was among the countries that used child labor and sweatshop conditions drove away existing clients, including Disney, which had been a major customer. Those customers moved to more stable places like Nicaragua and Honduras while keeping other companies from even considering the island. The manufacturers contend that the reports of abuses were blown out of proportion but that they have corrected problems and are monitored these days by companies that give them contracts;

Factory owners in the Dominican Republic have also begun to consider expanding or moving some operations into Haiti, because manufacturing has been so successful there that workers are demanding higher-paying jobs, like those assembling electronic components. Haitian workers receive about US$2 per day, and transporting goods to the U.S. is cheaper than for Honduras or Nicaragua, which in recent years have gained 22,000 jobs from companies based in the Dominican Republic. Dominican and Haitian politicians, civic and business leaders have already been exploring the possibility of opening factories along their mutual border, where tensions have always simmered over illegal Haitian immigration. They have also begun to develop Free Zones like those in Central America that provide concessions to manufacturers and provide streamlined access to services ranging from electricity and telecommunications to shipping and customs procedures;

Haitian apparel contractor members can be viewed in detail on www.usawear.org/americas and also on http://voyager.igdc.com/aaca/ under each of the 200 categories of apparel list on-line by the American Apparel Producers (AAPN) Network.

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Publication:Caribbean Update
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:5HAIT
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:673
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