The next step for Haiti: Trade

A woman sells vegetables at a makeshift market on a road in in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


Kai Ryssdal: A year ago today, almost a quarter million people were killed in the Haitian earthquake. Government and society there are still trying to recover. In pure financial terms, losses were about $8 billion. That's a lot anywhere; it's almost inconceivable in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. But Marketplace's Jeff Tyler reports that what Haiti needs now even more than aid might be trade.

Jeff Tyler: The economic calamity caused by the earthquake has not been quite as bad as expected.

Pamela Cox is with the World Bank.

Pamela Cox: We had originally projected that their production would fall some 8.5 percent, that the economy would contract. Now the good news is the economy contracted only 7 percent. But that's still a contraction in a very poor country.

The World Bank and other international organizations helped to finance some public-private partnerships. Other companies have lent their expertise.

Olga Reyes is a spokesperson for Coca-Cola's Latin Business unit.

Olga Reyes: We didn't want to stop at shipping water, or tents or money. We wanted to do something that could help build the country back, and build it better.

Agriculture is one of the primary sources of jobs in Haiti, and mangoes are one of the main crops. Most of the fruit is sold by street vendors. But Reyes says farmers could improve their standard of living by exporting their crops.

Reyes: Our goal is to double the income of 25,000 Haitian mango farmers over five years.

Perhaps the biggest potential for Haiti's economy lies in its garment industry. To help boost trade, the U.S. Congress relaxed quotas on Haitian garments.

Charles Reis is with the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

Charles Reis: Haitians will have this special advantage in exporting T-shirts and pajamas and those kinds of goods to the U.S.

That special advantage attracted a South Korean clothing maker to Haiti. Yesterday, it signed a deal expected to create 20,000 jobs. At the event, Haiti's prime minister called the occasion the happiest day of his life. He pointed to the deal as a step towards breaking Haiti's dependence on foreign aid.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.
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Thirty years ago, Haiti was self-sufficient in its staple of rice. In the mid-90s the IMF forced it to slash tariffs, the US dumped its subsidised surplus on the country, and Haiti now imports the bulk of its rice. Tens of thousands of rice farmers were forced to move to the jerry-built slums of Port-au-Prince. The lending and aid conditions imposed over the past two decades, forced Haitian governments to privatise, hold down the minimum wage and cut back the already minimal health, education and public infrastructure. Haiti’s earthquake has been used by corporate interests and their state ­sponsors to drive through predatory neoliberal ­policies, from ­radical deregulation to privatisation. But, foreign-owned sweatshops won't develop its economy nor provide a regular income for the majority. That requires the cancellation of Haiti's existing billion-dollar debt, a replacement of new loans with grants, and a Haitian-led democratic reconstruction of their own country, based on public investment and redevelopment of agriculture. Unfortunately, that's not happening.

I think this is a great step for Haiti to start moving foward.

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