Haiti: Soros and Mevs Group to build maquila park

On Oct. 6 Haiti’s WIN Group conglomerate and the US-based Soros Economic Development Fund announced plans to build a $45 million industrial park named “West Indies Free Zone” near Port-au-Prince’s impoverished Cité Soleil neighborhood. The 1.2 million square foot facility, to be completed in 2012, will “offer tax, customs and processing advantages to tenants” and is expected “to create 25,000 jobs and improve the standard of living for the 300,000 residents” of Cité Soleil, according to a WIN Group press release. The free trade zone’s executives “are already in preliminary discussions with North American and European apparel manufacturers.”

The press release describes the WIN Group, owned by the wealthy and powerful Mevs family, as a stakeholder in “warehousing and storage, port operations and ethanol processing,” and in SHODECOSA, “the largest privately owned industrial and commercial park in Haiti.” The Soros Economic Development Fund, founded by US billionaire financier George Soros in 1997, is a nonprofit foundation which says its mission is to alleviate poverty and community deterioration. (Reuters, Oct. 6)

The West Indies Free Zone announcement followed a two-day conference by foreign investors the previous week and a visit to Haiti on Oct. 2 by former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001), now the United Nations special envoy to the country. Clinton, the husband of US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, has been promoting investment in tax-exempt plants assembling for export, which are known as maquiladoras in Spanish. “The investment climate [in Haiti] is much warmer than the temperature in this room,” Canadian ambassador Gilles Rivard remarked at the conference, which drew representatives from North American apparel firms—Gap, Levi Strauss and American Eagle Outfitters—and from Citibank and Scotiabank. The New York Times correspondent noted that “Haiti’s extremely low labor costs, comparable to those in Bangladesh,” are what “make it so appealing.” (NYT, Oct. 5)

Interest in Haiti’s maquiladora sector seems to have grown after the government turned back efforts earlier this year to raise the minimum wage in the industry to 200 gourdes a day (about $4.97). The projections of growth in the sector come in the midst of a dramatic decline in maquiladora production in the Caribbean and Central America due to Chinese competition and the economic crisis in the US, the industry’s main market.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 11

See our last post on Haiti.