The Nassau Guardian
Haiti is open for business - Bahamas is first to knock at the door
The Republic of Haiti has been ostracized for the past fifty years (1957- 2007). In spite of its splendor, it is not listed in the traditional brochures depicting the magic of the Caribbean. This ostracism is to the point of coming to an end. Haiti is now open for business and The Bahamas has been the first to knock at its door to transact business.
Indeed, under the peaceful governance provided by the team Preval-Alexis, Haiti has been recognized as a legitimate trading partner. The Minister of Commerce and Industry Magui Durcé, who shines with a brilliant mind and an attractive look, has chosen Guy Lamothe, an energetic young expert, to lead the office of the Centre for the Facilitations of Investments (CFI). He has put together a team of young lions with the credential style of Silicon Valley professionals to guide the potential investors.
I paid a surprise visit to the CFI office to test the welcome mat. I found a hospitable environment decorated with the touch of the Haitian artistry, inviting and attractive. I was surprised, though, to see the big sticker (gift of the USAID) on the computer of the receptionist. A nice honor roll on a golden plaque on the wall, mentioning that the funding of the office was facilitated by the USAID would have been a more elegant vista and more in tune with the décor.
Indeed, the United States under the leadership of Paul Tuebner, the USAID Haiti Director, has been a moving force towards the creation of the office. It takes three days to register a corporation in the United States. It used to take 263 days in Haiti, with the guidance of the CFI; it takes now 30 days to register a new business in Haiti.
The CFI is a public private entity funded to the scale of $250,000 per year. To reach its full zenith operation, it needs a budget of US$2 million. There is still more room on the honor rolls for the other friends of Haiti to help this most important agency, the incubator of job creation for the million unemployed Haitians.
Last October, a group of businessmen from The Bahamas, led by the Chamber of Commerce and the former Bahamas Ambassador Dr. Eugene Newry, were hosted by the CFI office and the Haitian Government. They came to Haiti to explore the business potential of the country. Using the terms of one of the members of the delegation, "One needs to go to Haiti and see for themselves.... they would get the rude awakening of the boundless opportunities in Haiti."
Dr. Newry commented further that Haiti is "a sleeping giant". Like China some twenty years ago, Haiti represents for the Caribbean and for the rest of the world this huge manpower close to the largest market of the universe: The United States. A businessman with a good acumen should seek no further location to open his business: The Haitian worker is industrious, creative and not expensive. The President of the delegation, Dionisio D'Aguilar on his last day in Haiti said:
"I can say without fear of exaggeration that the opportunities are boundless with the means and the imagination to make them happen.... The private sector in Haiti is ready to do business and the government has put its full weight and influence behind, the incentives are in place and its officials motivated to expedite business proposals."
There are certainly some drawbacks; the sound of alarm has been raised by the Deputy Prime Minister of Bahamas, Brent Symonette. He warned that Haiti has some structural deficits in infrastructure such as good roads, electricity, and telecommunication. But here again, these deficits constitute opportunities for the savvy businessman. Digicel has demonstrated that Haiti is a hot market for services. In less than two years, it has reached a market of 2 million customers. Haiti is one of the best examples that the country with its 8.5 million people at home and 1.5 million in the Diaspora, is hungry for the services that the people of the other Caribbean countries take for granted.
Haiti's main export commodity has been its agricultural products. Its mangoes, the Francis brand, are the best that this world has to offer. According to a big produce wholesaler in the United States, there are two types of mangoes in the world, there are mangoes from Haiti and there are mangoes from the rest of the world. (India, eat your heart out!). The Haitian coffee, the St. Marc brand has an historical reputation; it used to be mixed with coffee from other parts of the world to give them the exotic Haitian taste. The Haitian cotton is the second best after the Egyptian brand. The Haitian orange from Grand River (Bonamy) might be the most succulent in this world. In a universe, where organic is king, the Haitian soil is fertilizer free.
The visit of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce has resulted in a signed cooperation agreement with the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, extending commercial links to tourism, fisheries, construction, financial services, agriculture, technology, souvenir manufacturing, textiles and clothing.
The Bahamas is calling on the sister states of the Caribbean to follow its lead, as stated by Mr. Lamothe, CFI Executive Director, "It is time to reinvent the traditional road of commerce that use to go directly from the Metropolis to the Colony, the islands of the Tropics must start to use the leverage of each other for the benefit of their people."
My first wish for CFI is to see the Institution upgraded to the level where it becomes the Haitian Business Development Corporation. Imagine that Digicel in knocking at the door in Haiti was received with the proposal that the Haitian Government through TELECO would become a partner of the company. The people of Haiti and the Haitian government would benefit part of the immense return enjoyed by Digicel in Haiti. It is a win-win proposal, used by Jamaica, China, Malaysia and several emerging countries.
My second wish is to see that CFI becomes a broker, incubator and facilitator for the export of Haitian products (fruit and produce) towards Europe and the United States.
It is a mighty feat for a young institution. Mr. Guy Lamothe has already proven that he is up to the task. Indeed Haiti is open for business. The first investors will get the best deal.
Jean H. Charles is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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