WASHINGTON — President Obama has signed into law a bill that almost triples the amount of apparel made in Haiti that can be shipped into the U.S. duty free.

This story first appeared in the May 26, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The bill is intended to help Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, rebuild after the devastating earthquake in January that disrupted the mainstay of its economy — the apparel and textile industry.

The sector accounted for two-thirds of Haiti’s exports and almost 10 percent of gross domestic product, employing 28,000 workers. Apparel and textile imports from Haiti increased 24.5 percent to $513.3 million in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The U.S. has given duty free benefits to Haiti since 2006 under a trade preference program called the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act, or HOPE. The legislation that passed the House and the Senate this month significantly expanded the benefits.

“Because the apparel industry will be important to Haiti’s overall recovery, renewing and expanding preferences for Haiti’s apparel industry will bring needed certainty and predictability in recovery efforts,” said Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

The heads of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition and National Council of Textile Organizations described the legislation as an “acceptable compromise.”

“While the bill provides Haiti with a path forward for long-term economic recovery…it also takes into account various sensitivities from the perspective of the U.S. textile industry,” Auggie Tantillo, executive director of AMTAC and Cass Johnson, president of NCTO, said in a joint statement.

The centerpiece of the legislation would increase the allowances of third-country fabric of knit and woven apparel to 200 million square meter equivalents from 70 million SMEs in each category. But it would also place sublimits of 85 million SMEs on the duty free benefits for certain high-volume knit apparel products and limits of 70 million SMEs for certain woven apparel products.

The bill also extended the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, a regional trade preference program, and HOPE through Sept. 30, 2020.

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