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Trade More Important Than Aid to Haiti

Three years after a devastating earthquake, Haiti still has a long way to go to get back on its feet economically. But the country is making progress. Much of the rubble has been cleared away. Confidence in the Haitian government is climbing, from an 11 percent approval rating in 2010 to 32 percent last year, according to a Gallup poll.

Now Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, a former telecom executive, is traveling the world inviting businessmen to invest in Haiti. His message, which he will deliver to international donors at a meeting Wednesday, is that the country needs trade, more than aid, to sustain its future.

He’s right. But it remains to be seen whether Haiti’s economic master plan — intended to bring more low-wage manufacturing jobs to the country — will work.

One of the crown jewels of the plan is the Caracol Industrial Park, a 600-acre manufacturing site equipped with electricity and access to transportion, built with funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Clinton Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank. This is where a large chunk of America’s post-earthquake aid went. USAID put in more than a third of the $300 million construction.

Sae-A Trading, a South Korean company that makes clothing for Walmart and the Gap, is already producing T-shirts there. So far, only 1,500 people are employed there. But U.S. officials say Sae-A is on track to employ 20,000 Haitians. It’s part of a larger plan for the country to regain more than 70,000 apparel jobs that it lost due to political instability and embargoes.

Haiti’s government also hopes electronics manufacturers will soon forgo China and open up in Haiti, which enjoys duty-free status and close proximity to American consumers.

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