Published on The Trade Post

How Trade Is Helping Haiti Recover and Grow its Economy

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 Sun rising behind clouds in Haiti. Source - Yinan ChenThings are looking up in Haiti as the country continues to rebuild from the devastating 2010 earthquake. And part of this progress is a story of trade.

The Haitian government recognizes this, and is working with the World Bank Group and other donors to identify and remove barriers to trade to better promote export growth.

A World Bank team traveled to Port au Prince earlier this month for a week long workshop with the main stakeholders (public and private) intervening on trade logistic in the country, including the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, in order to discuss ways to strengthen the Haitian Trade Facilitation (TF) program. The program is funded through the Trade Facilitation Facility, a multi-donor trust fund dedicated specifically to helping developing countries realize economic development and poverty reduction through trade.

The recommendations presented to the government were based on the findings of a number surveys recently conducted as part of the first phase of the program. They included an assessment developed by using the World Bank’s Customs Assessment Trade Toolkit (CATT), as well as input from surveys covering trucking, supply chains, ports, and the maritime industry.

The Haitian economy faces a number of challenges—from the damage of recent natural disasters, to ineffective policy and poor infrastructure. The goal of the TF program is to help overcome these challenges by reducing trade and transportation costs, boosting competitiveness, and increasing regional integration.

Many of the recommendations centered on key agricultural products—avocado, mango, coffee, vetiver, and rice—as well as textiles. Mangoes and vetiver (a type of grass used to produce essential oils) are exported around the globe, while coffee and avocadoes are exported to the neighboring Dominican Republic.

To expand these exports and gain access to new markets, it will be vital to boost producers’ competitiveness by improving yields and factor productivity. When these products are ready to be moved from field to factory, more effort should be taken to improve transport and packaging—reducing the likelihood that goods will be crushed or damaged. This will help to improve the quality of products sold, reduce loss rates, and increase farmers’ incomes.

When these products are then ready for export, there needs to be better road and port infrastructure and equipment in place. Part of this will require process reforms, to make customs clearance procedures more effective and efficient.

The government is implementing a customs modernization plan to do just this. It will begin with an audit of procedures at ports and inland frontiers. Infrastructure will be strengthened, and the capacity of customs officers will be improved.

They should be aided by the further roll out and increased use of the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) across institutions.

The government is also finalizing, with TF support, plans for the implementation of a Trade Information Portal, similar to those in Laos and Lesotho whose success has been highlighted on this blog.

These developments should help with the export of goods, but equal attention should also be allocated to trade in services. Given the importance of remittances from the Haitian diaspora, the government should be doing its best to facilitate services, particularly those that develop human capital.

All of these aspects of the Haitian TF program can further benefit from new support mechanisms provided under the new WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, agreed upon at the Bali Ministerial Conference in December of last year. This support should be integrated into a national trade facilitation plan aimed at smoothing the integration of Haiti into regional markets and the larger multilateral trading system.

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