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Haiti Economic Reconvery Opportunity Act of 2003

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. DEWINE. Mr. President, I returned this week from my 12th trip to Haiti. As my colleagues are aware, I have many long-standing concerns about the dire political, economic, and humanitarian situation in Haiti.

In a nation just over an hour's flight from Miami, there is abject poverty, suffering, and disease. We absolutely must pay closer attention to what is happening to our neighbors in our hemisphere. We must be engaged.

That is why I am so pleased to be joining several of my Senate and House colleagues in introducing the "Haiti Economic Recovery Opportunity Act of 2003." I'd like to thank our Senate Co-sponsors, who include Senators GRAHAM of Florida, LUGAR, DURBIN, NELSON of Florida, and Representatives Congressmen SHAW and CONYERS for their leadership in getting support for this bill, as well as our other House Co-sponsors, Representatives CRANE, RANGEL, WATSON, LEE of California, LEE of Texas, MEEK, GOSS, FOLEY, WATERS, and Delegate CHRISTENSEN of the Virgin Islands.

Our bill would take a major step in improving the economic and political situation in Haiti through an important tool of our foreign policy—and that is trade.

As my colleagues, Senators DURBIN, NELSON, and CHAFEE, and Representative MEEK—all of whom traveled with me to Haiti over the course of this last month—the situation in Haiti is bleak. Haiti is the poorest country in our Hemisphere, with approximately 70 percent of its population out of work and 80 percent living in abject poverty. Less than one-half of Haiti's 7 million people can read or write. Haiti's infant mortality rate is the highest in our hemisphere. And one in four children under the age of five are malnourished.

Roughly one in 12 Haitians has HIV/AIDS and, according to the Centers for Disease Control projections, Haiti will experience up to 44,000 new HIV/AIDS cases this year—that's 4,000 more than the number expected here in the United States, where our population is 35 times that of Haiti's. AIDS already has orphaned over 200,000 children, and this number is expected to skyrocket to between 323,000 and 393,000 over the next ten years.

The violence, corruption, and instability caused by the flow of drugs through Haiti cannot be overstated. An estimated 15 percent of all cocaine entering the United States passes through Haiti, the Dominican Republic, or both.

All of this creates an environment where the logical course of action for many Haitians is simply to flee. We have seen this in the past, and we may see it again. So far this fiscal year, the Coast Guard has interdicted and rescued over 813 Haitian migrants at sea—compared to 1,113 during the entire fiscal year 2000. And, according to the State Department, migrants recently interdicted and repatriated to Haiti have cited economic conditions as their reason for attempting to migrate by sea. I do not think that a mass exodus is imminent, but we cannot ignore any increase in migrant departures from Haiti. In addition to being an immigration issue for the United States, these migrant departures frequently result in the loss of life at sea.

When I visited Haiti last month, we toured a textile assembly factor. What we saw was that this operation was providing about 800 Haitian laborers with jobs and giving them an income to help support their families. This is in a country that went from having 100,000 assembly jobs to only 30,000 today. There is no reason we can't reverse that trend.

The bill we are introducing today attempts to change the economic situation by granting limited duty-free treatment on certain Haitian apparel articles if—and only if—the President is able to certify that the Haitian government is making serious market, political, and social reforms. The bill would correct a glitch or oversight in U.S. trade law that recognized the special economic needs of least developed countries in Africa, but did not recognize those needs for the least developed country in the Western Hemisphere—Haiti.

Specifically, the bill would allow duty-free entry of Haitian apparel articles assembled from fabrics from countries with which the U.S. has a free trade or a regional trade agreement. It also would grant duty-free status on articles, regardless of the origin of the fabrics and yarns, if the fabrics and yarns were not commercially available in the United States.

The bill would cap duty-free apparel imports made of fabrics and yarns from the designated countries at 1.5 percent of total U.S. apparel imports. This limit grows modestly over time to 3.5 percent.

The enactment of this legislation would promote employment in Haitian industry by allowing the country to become a garment production center. While the benefits of bill would be modest by U.S. standards, in Haiti they are substantial. It is estimated that the bill could create thousands of jobs, thereby reducing the unemployment rate and breaking the shackles of poverty. Before the 1991 coup, Haiti was one of the largest apparel suppliers in the Caribbean. Today, Haitian apparel accounts for less than one percent of all apparel imports into the United States.

The type of assembly carried out in Haiti would have minimal impact on employment in the United States. Actually, it would encourage the emigration of jobs from the Far East back to our hemisphere, including the United States, because most Haitian foreign exchange earnings, unlike in the Far East, are utilized to purchase American products. And, the "Trade and Development Act" already includes strong safeguards against transshipment.

In order for Haiti to be eligible for the trade benefits under the bill, the President must certify that Haiti is making progress on matters like the rule of law. This will not be an easy task for the Haitian government. However, I believe that because of the incentives provided in the bill, it would be more and more apparent to them that it is in their interest to reform.
Adopting the Haiti Economic Recovery Opportunity Act of 2002 would be a powerful demonstration of our commitment to helping reverse the downward spiral in Haiti. I encourage my colleagues to join in support of this legislation.

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