By and  on March 30, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Haitian apparel industry has asked the Obama administration and Congress to increase the volume of textiles and apparel that can be shipped here duty free in an effort to help its domestic industry get back on its feet following the devastating earthquake in January.

Under the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act, or HOPE II, 70 million square meter equivalents of knit apparel and 70 million SMEs of woven apparel made with third-country fabric can be shipped to the U.S. duty free.

Haitian officials are seeking to increase the allowances for third-country fabric to 250 million SMEs for knit and woven apparel, bringing the total eligible for duty free treatment to 500 million SMEs.

The higher duty free levels are necessary to encourage significant investments in Haiti’s garment sector, which suffered significant hardships from earthquake damage, said Georges Sassine, president of the Association of Industries of Haiti and executive director of the CTMO-HOPE, a government-sponsored commission.

“We have very serious companies who want to come to Haiti, but the limitations prevent them from doing so,” Sassine said. “

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has expressed concern about transshipment issues that could arise from an extension of trade benefits, but he is working closely with Haitian and U.S. apparel and textile executives.

“The Administration is glad to be working with the Congress to find a way to substantially increase the benefits available to Haiti under HOPE legislation and to extend the period in which those increased benefits will be available,” said a USTR spokeswoman. “We are also working to strengthen efforts to ensure that transshipment does not occur.”

Sassine was in Washington on Friday on his way to New York for a United Nations donor conference this week. The Haitian industry has also asked for an extension of its trade benefits, set to expire in 2018, through 2025.

During a visit to Haiti last week, former President Clinton told CNN, “We need to change our trade preference law for them and increase the volume of textiles they can send into America. Because if we do…then we can get massive investment here [in Haiti] and create tens of thousands and perhaps 100,000 jobs.”

The USTR unveiled an initiative in February, the Plus One for Haiti program, aimed at boosting apparel production in Haiti. Sassine said the effort is a good “consciousness-raising move” for the industry and will help draw attention to Haiti’s need.

An extension and expansion of duty benefits would require congressional approval. The staffs of the House Ways & Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee are working on legislation to expand the trade benefits, according to a Ways & Means spokesman.

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