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Q&A: Gregor Avril, Executive Director, Association of Industries of Haiti

The first Paris edition of the Apparel Sourcing trade show will put the spotlight on Haitian producers, who hope to diversify their client base.

PARIS — The first Paris edition of the Apparel Sourcing trade show will put the spotlight on Haitian producers, who hope to diversify their predominantly North American client base by striking partnerships with European buyers.

Gregor Avril, executive director of the Association of Industries of Haiti, provides an insight into the challenges and opportunities facing the Haitian clothing industry almost two years after the devastating earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people. Infrastructure projects include the construction of an industrial park that aims to support 65,000 permanent jobs, starting with a commitment by South Korean garment manufacturer Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd. to invest more than $70 million, according to a report by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.

WWD: Why is it important for Haitian clothing manufacturers to diversify and begin to work with European Union buyers?
Gregor Avril:
We recognize that Haiti stands to benefit by finding a niche position on the largest consumer market in the world. As a [least-developed country], Haiti benefits from preferred access to the EU market.

WWD: Is your infrastructure prepared to take on extra demand?
G.A.:
Our capacity is limited at the moment, but there are several projects currently under way to respond to the demand. There is a new industrial park being built in the north of the country. The project is estimated at $200 million and will help create another 20,000 new jobs in the sector. In addition, the main public industrial park in Port-au-Prince is currently under expansion.”

WWD: What are the biggest advantages you can offer European clothing manufacturers?
G.A.:
Haiti is an LDC and member of [the Caribbean Community & Common Market], and therefore benefits from preferential access to the EU (zero duty regardless of origin of raw materials). With [the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act], EU companies currently paying duties in the U.S. can use Haiti as a production platform to enter the U.S. market at zero duty. We have a large pool of available labor at competitive rates.

WWD: What are the biggest disadvantages you suffer from?
G.A.:
Lack of fabric supply, and the industry is not vertically integrated (no design or finishing infrastructure). However, fabric is available in the region (Dominican Republic and in Central America), and there are talks to build a mill in Haiti in the near future. Some companies have opened offices in the U.S. to add design and other services to their capabilities.