By  on February 16, 2010

WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk plans to unveil an initiative today that encourages U.S. apparel brands to work toward manufacturing 1 percent of their total production in Haiti.

The Plus One for Haiti program is intended to help lift the industry after last month’s devastating earthquake, people familiar with the matter said.

Companies that shift their apparel and textile sourcing will be able to take advantage of trade benefits. Duty free apparel benefits were extended to Haiti in 2006 under the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act, or HOPE, and its successor, HOPE II, in 2008. Under the programs, the country’s apparel manufacturing sector grew.

Before the earthquake, 28 apparel and textile firms were operating in Haiti. They employed 28,000 workers, according to the Association of Industries of Haiti. The industry in Haiti was a mainstay of the economy, accounting for two-thirds of exports and almost 10 percent of gross domestic product.

The garment sector is seen as an important tool to help Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of its population living below the poverty line. Imports from Haiti increased 24.5 percent to $513.3 million in 2009, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel.

Carol Guthrie, assistant USTR for public and media affairs, said Kirk will make an announcement at the MAGIC marketplace trade show in Las Vegas.

The USTR initiative is intended to assist in getting Haitian factories and businesses up and running as quickly as possible. According to estimates, close to 75 percent of the garment industry in Haiti is functioning.

To oversee the initiative, USTR will also establish a Haiti HOPE task force under Gail Strickler, assistant USTR for textiles. The task force will focus on working with brands, business leaders in Haiti and government officials in both countries to dismantle any remaining roadblocks for Haitian textile and apparel exports.

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