Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti trade policy

The Washington Post notes the destructive role of U.S. trade policy towards Haiti:
But creating a new economy will rest on more than sacks of food and aid dollars, which is why others say the United States should revisit trade policies with Haiti. Over the protest of American textile manufacturers, the United States granted tariff exemptions in 2006 to Haitian-made apparel and, after seeing middling results, in 2008 eased restrictions on using fabrics from certain low-cost countries. By 2009, more than two dozen Haitian companies employed 24,000 people making T-shirts, men's suits and more.

James Roberts, a former Foreign Service officer in Haiti now at the Heritage Foundation, argues for liberalizing the fabric rules further, to lower Haitians' costs. He also called for revisiting the "really destructive" U.S. tariffs on sugar to encourage growers in Haiti. Others say the United States should make it easier for Haiti to export its mangoes, which are prized by many American consumers but have faced hurdles because of U.S. food safety rules.

Some experts say that the answer is a rice revival. Until the 1980s, Haiti grew almost all the rice that it ate. But in 1986, under pressure from foreign governments, including the United States, Haiti removed its tariff on imported rice. By 2007, 75 percent of the rice eaten in Haiti came from the United States, according to Robert Maguire, a professor at Trinity Washington University. Haitians took to calling the product "Miami Rice."

The switch to importing rice was driven by U.S. subsidies for its own growers, said Fritz Gutwein, co-director of the social justice organization Quixote Center and coordinator of its Haiti Reborn project. The result in Haiti was a neglect of domestic agriculture that left many of the country's farmers, still the majority of its population, unable to support themselves, fueling waves of urban migration and environmental degradation.

"America needs to look at how its own agricultural policies affect Haiti," Gutwein said.
And don't for a minute think Haiti is the only country the U.S. imposes such backwards policies on.

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