WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Wednesday approved trade breaks for Haiti’s textile industry, the latest of several actions aimed at helping the hemisphere’s poorest nation recover from a devastating earthquake.
The measure approved by a voice vote expands the kinds of textile products and apparel that Haiti can export to the United States duty-free.
It also nearly triples the levels under which certain knit and woven apparel products may receive duty-free treatment and extends through 2020 a trade program that had contributed to Haiti’s economic growth before the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed an estimated 230,000.
“Once the earthquake hit, it became clear that something needed to be done to help Haiti regain the footing that it had worked so hard to attain. This legislation does that,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.
Textiles and apparel are Haiti’s most important export to the United States, with apparel exports reaching $513 million last year.
Lawmakers stressed that they had crafted the bill so as to gain the support of the U.S. textile industry, which has been hard hit by foreign competition.
The American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, which represents the textile industry, said it was supporting the bill because, while providing Haiti with a path toward economic recovery, “it also takes into account various sensitivities from the perspective of the U.S. textile industry.”
The bill said, Rick Helfenbein, co-chair of a Haiti recovery effort created by the American Apparel & Footwear Association, will help rebuild Haiti’s industry “with a degree of certainty and predictability that has been lacking.”
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush praised the House action.
“This important step responds to the needs of the Haitian people for more tools to lift themselves from poverty, while standing to benefit US consumers,” they said in a joint statement.
Clinton and Bush have spearheaded U.S. fundraising efforts for Haiti.
The measure was written with the cooperation of the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Finance Committee and could move quickly through the Senate.
Separately in the Senate Wednesday, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., proposed legislation that would authorize up to $3.5 billion over five years to support Haiti reconstruction. The bill directs the U.S. Agency for International Development to prepare a development strategy.
Congress has already passed legislation making it easier to contribute to Haitian relief efforts and calling on international financial groups to forgive Haitian debts.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk in February announced a program under which the U.S. apparel industry is urged to source one percent of its apparel imports from Haiti.
Some Haitian economists and others have warned against reliance on the garment sector for Haiti’s recovery, saying frustrations over very low wages could spark social unrest. Workers earn as little as $3 or so a day — not enough, owners acknowledge, to feed their families.
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