Haiti: Brazil, US push for more maquilas

During a meeting in Brasilia on Sept. 17, Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim and US commerce representative Ronald Kirk ratified a plan to allow Brazilian companies operating in Haiti to export products to the US without paying customs fees. This would be done through an extension of two US trade acts ostensibly aiding Haitian industries: the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity Through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act of 2006 and the HOPE 2 Act of 2008. Amorim told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that the initiative’s goal is humanitarian, “to aid Haiti’s economic development through sustainable production activity,” although he noted that it would also benefit Brazilian and US companies.

Brazilian National Confederation of Industry (CNI) president Armando Monteiro Neto said Brazilian apparel companies had expressed interest in setting up assembly plants in Haiti under the agreement. A group of twelve investors were planning to visit Haiti Sept. 27-Oct. 3 to explore the possibilities. (Xinhua, Sept. 17; AlterPresse, Sept. 18)

Brazil leads the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 9,000-member military and police force that has occupied Haiti since June 2004. The United Nations is expected to renew MINUSTAH’s mandate for another year sometime before Oct. 15. During a Sept. 18-19 visit to Haiti with Brazil’s Amorim, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner called for the mission to continue at least until after next year’s presidential election in Haiti. “After [the elections] we will see,” Kouchner told the Associated Press news service. “It depends on [the Haitians’] actions, [if] they are going to take their own affairs in hand.” A co-founder of Doctors Without Borders and a former member of the French Socialist Partner, Kouchner is a longtime proponent of “humanitarian intervention” military operations. (Miami Herald, Sept. 19 from AP)

The plan to expand the number of tax-exempt assembly plants—known in Spanish as maquiladoras—was announced less than a week after the Haitian Parliament passed a measure setting the minimum wage for assembly industry workers at 125 gourdes ($3.11) a day. The workers themselves, with strong student support, had mounted marches and wildcat strikes in August to demand a 200-gourde minimum. The plan to increase apparel production comes after several years of sharp decline in the Caribbean and Central American maquiladora sectors, with the region’s share of the US import market falling dramatically since 2004.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 27

See our last post on Haiti.