Haiti’s Caribbean neighbors have given the earthquake-devastated island a further three years to become a full member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) single trading market and have also granted it permission to sell goods duty free in the region for the period in a move to spur economic growth there, regional officials said Friday.
The decision came at the end of a two-day regional trade ministers meeting in bloc headquarters, Georgetown, at the weekend that had focused on efforts to help the region’s most populous member state recover from the January 12 earthquake that killed an estimated 300,00 people according to authorities.
Trade chief Irwin LaRocque said the meeting unanimously agreed to allow Haiti duty free trade to the region for a list of preferred goods it handed ministers at the meeting. The list is to be approved by member states by mid July or exactly a week after leaders would have met for their annual summit in western Jamaica.
LaRocque refused to give details about the list but other senior bloc officials say the region is moving to give Haiti an advantage to sell world-renowned apparel items in the region without taxes so as to boost trade.
“No one spoke against the decisions at the meeting,” La Rocque said, adding: “There was tremendous support for its rebuilding efforts.
He said the region is mounting a mission to Haiti in the coming weeks to restart preparation for joining the trading market. Such preparations were badly set back after the earthquake in January, hence the need to extend its trading arrangements deadline by a further three years.
Haiti in July of 2002 became the last nation to join the 15-nation community, 12 of which participate in bloc trading arrangements. The Bahamas and Montserrat are the other two non-trading members.
The move to waive taxes, officials said, could help Haitian apparel compete with cheaper products from the U.S. and China, which currently dominate the Caribbean market.
CARICOM’s decision to extend a lifeline to Haiti has come just months after the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly approved a bill to give the island’s clothing and textiles more market access following the misery of the earthquake.
Clothing accounts for a full 75 percent of export earnings and employs 30,000 people.
Haiti already enjoys duty-free access for most of the clothes it sells in the United States under the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) and a separate program for Haiti known as the Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Act (HOPE).