Posted on Fri, Dec. 08, 2006
House passes a trade bill that includes preferences for Haiti
By Pablo Bachelet
WASHINGTON _The House of Representatives approved a sweeping trade bill Friday despite textile-state lawmakers' efforts to defeat provisions that extended preferences to Haiti.
The bill passed 212-184, propelled by an unusual alliance of pro-free-trade Republicans and Democrats who are keen on helping a nation long trapped in a cycle of poverty and political strife.
The bill will now go to the Senate, but it's unclear if it has the 60 votes needed for quick passage as Congress wrapped up its 109th session.
Eight Republican senators from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Kentucky sent a letter to House and Senate leaders and proponents of the Haiti textile bill saying that trade agreements already had cost 100,000 jobs and that they would "oppose the provision as forcefully as possible."
The Haiti provisions were bundled in expansive legislation that included normalizing trade relations with Vietnam and extending special benefits to four Andean and 37 African nations.
The Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act, or HOPE, allows Haitian textile manufacturers to include some yarns and fabrics from China in garments they export duty-free to the United States. The idea is to generate much-needed jobs in Haiti's garment industry.
U.S. textile groups argued that the Haiti bill would provide a backdoor entry for Chinese producers into the U.S. market, costing American producers as much as $220 million in annual business to Haitian manufacturers who'll now prefer Chinese suppliers.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., and others have threatened to delay the package if the Haiti provisions are in it. But Sen. Mike DeWine, the outgoing Republican from Ohio, threatened to do the same if the Haitian provisions were taken out of the bill - a standoff that prompted departing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to warn Thursday night that Senate passage "could face obstacles."
DeWine was one of Haiti's most passionate champions in Congress, helping steer millions of additional U.S. aid to the country. He has visited Haiti 16 times during his 30-year political career. A school in Cite Soleil, one of Port-au-Prince's most dangerous and poorest slums, is named after DeWine's daughter Becky, who died in a car accident.
The lawmaker enlisted hip-hop star and Haitian native Wyclef Jean to help push for the Haiti bill in Congress.
DeWine introduced the original Haiti trade bill in 2004. A companion text was introduced in the House by outgoing Florida Republican Rep. Clay Shaw.
But the Republican leadership, facing objections by textile-state lawmakers, refused to put the bill up for a vote. The Bush administration never endorsed it.
U.S. textile groups point out that Haiti's textile industry is showing signs of life, with exports to the United States jumping 11 percent to $432 million last year.
But supporters of the Haiti bill brushed off the objections of U.S. textile interests.
"It really amazes me," Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., the incoming chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, said of the textile industry concerns. "God should be so good to the people in Haiti that their exports should be a threat to the United States of America. That's not going to happen."
© 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.