Feb 3, 2010
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US lawmakers propose trade bill to help Haiti

Feb 3, 2010

WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Two U.S. senators proposed trade legislation on Tuesday 2 February to help Haiti's clothing industry, the country's main export sector, recover rapidly from last month's devastating magnitude 7 earthquake.

"Haiti's long-term survival depends on immediate steps being taken to protect its economic future," Senator Ron Wyden said in a statement.

"By renewing pro-Haitian provisions in U.S. trade law, streamlining customs processes and opening up avenues for foreign investment, the U.S. can have a significant impact on this fragile economy and restore a much-needed sense of normalcy," the Oregon Democrat said.

The clothing sector accounted for about 75 percent of Haiti's exports and employed more than 25,000 Haitians before the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed up to 200,000 people and left up to 1 million more homeless.

Most of the clothes that Haiti exports to the United States come in duty free under the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) and a separate program for Haiti known as the Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act, or more popularly, HOPE.

The bill offered by Wyden and Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat whose state has been on the front line of U.S. relief efforts, would extend the CBTPA three years past its current expiration date in September.

It also would extend a key HOPE provision slated to expire in December 2011 for another two years and extend the entire HOPE program through 2022.

Oxfam America, an international relief and development agency, said quickly renewing the trade benefits would give companies the confidence they need to reinvest in Haiti.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association called for approval of the bill and said it has created an industry task force to help rebuild Haiti's clothing sector.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives also have been looking at ways to modify U.S. trade programs to help Haiti, a congressional aide said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told lawmakers on Tuesday 2 February that the United States has spent about $150 million on rescue and recovery operations so far in Haiti. (Reporting by Doug Palmer and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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