GENEVA — Apparel manufacturing in Haiti, the biggest export industry in the island nation, and the shipment of garments to duty-free markets such as the U.S. are helping efforts to spur trade and investment in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, trading partners said at a World Trade Organization forum.

In 2014, Haiti’s apparel shipments were valued at $966 million and accounted for an 89.2 percent share of its total exports of goods, up from $926.5 million and an 88.5 percent share a year earlier, and a marked increase compared with 2000, when apparel exports totaled $245 million, according to a WTO report on Haiti’s trade regime.

The U.S. was also Haiti’s top export market, absorbing nearly 86 percent of its exports last year, noted the report, which was used as the reference for a two-day WTO review that ended Friday.

“Haiti’s garment sector is helping to forge a better life for workers and spurring the kind of sustainable, broad-based growth and development that is possible when trade and investment are combined with respect for core labor standards,” said Christopher Wilson, deputy chief of the U.S. mission to the WTO.

Wilson said the U.S. “renewed and extended preferential access for Haitian goods earlier this year,” and added that the economy showed signs of continuing improvement “as private investment outpaced donor assistance for the fourth consecutive year.”

WTO economists said the improvement in economic activity, particularly in the U.S., is likely to trigger “stronger demand” for Haitian products.

From 2006 to 2013, the WTO said, an estimated $55 million was invested in Haiti’s apparel sector, which continues to concentrate on the production of large volume, low-margin apparel for the mass market.

The study said sub-contracting is widespread in the sector, and that “fabrics cut to size or in rolls for cutting from patterns, are imported and then assembled [into finished goods] and exported.”

Jude Hervey Day, Haiti’s minister of commerce and industry, told delegates that the country had benefited from the unilateral preferences granted by developed countries that allowed goods to enter duty-free, and also stressed the importance of more flexible rules of origin provided by the U.S. HOPE/HELP preferential arrangements for imports of Haitian apparel goods

But trading partners indicated Haiti needs to do more on many fronts to continue to grow and also urged it to diversify its products and export destinations.

Wilson said, “Investor protections are weak, energy costs are high and infrastructure is inadequate. There remains considerable scope to remove obstacles to trade that are not due to outside factors.”

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