Haiti Archives 1994-1996
11/02/96 HAITI-TRADE: U.S. Hand-me-downs Flood Haiti By Jennie Bauduy

Copyright 1995 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb. 11 (IPS) – A small freighter, with its nameplate ‘’God is Able’’ badly in need of a coat of paint, slipped into the western port town of Miragoane recently and unloaded its cargo from Miami – more than ten tons of ‘’Pepe’’, or used goods.

Pepe is anything from refrigerators, television sets, and school buses, to worn mattresses, old shoes, and second hand clothes. Thousands of tons of these secondhand goods are now flooding into Haiti every month and, while the traffic is proving profitable for some small entrepreneurs, many Haitians say Pepe is destroying local industries and turning Haiti into a ‘’dumping site’’.

What started in the 1960s in the form of clothes donations to Haiti’s poor, Pepe has evolved into a lucrative business with bases in Florida and even California.

Whether washed, wrapped and sold as new, cleaned and marketed as secondhand, or simply dumped in piles ‘’as is’’, Pepe can be seen being sold along most major streets of Haiti’s towns and villages.

Since the October 1994 lifting of a three-year trade embargo which crippled Haiti’s economy, the volume of used goods being imported has skyrocketed.

>From May through December of 1995, 14,500 used cars, trucks and school buses were shipped to Haiti, according to the Port Import Export Reporting Service (PIERS). In November, of 765 refrigerators imported, only 45 were new.

For a population with a per capita income of an estimated USD 200 a year, Pepe imports provide clothes, shoes and other goods to Haiti’s poor at rock-bottom prices. The flip-side, many Haitians say, is that while Pepe may allow the poor to buy a shirt or a pair of sneakers cheaply, it is destroying jobs in related sectors and forcing local traders such as tailors and cobblers out of business.

‘’Tailoring has suffered tremendously because of Pepe,’’ said Phillipe Aladin, a tailor for 36 years in Jacmel, a southeastern town. ‘’Sewing has a long tradition in Haiti, but today young people are no longer attracted to the trade. It’s a disappearing profession.’’

In the past 10 years an estimated 3,000 sewing-shops have shut down, according to Hans Garoute, executive director of the Institute for the Development and Promotion of Sewing (INDEPCO).

INDEPCO, a nonprofit organization which has received funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is helping Haitian tailors and seamstresses to compete against the onslaught of imported used goods and other Pepe.

‘’In the name of charity, they have killed the seed of development in this country,’’ Garoute said, adding that the sewing industry is the one sector where Haiti might have developed a definite comparative advantage in the international marketplace.

Working to keep the industry afloat, INDEPCO is promoting a shift away from the traditional practice of custom sewing to the more cost-effective production of ready-made garments.

Garoute and other Haitian businessmen say they want the government to take steps — if not to ban the trade altogether— at least to regulate the importation of used goods.

If Pepe imports have put into question the future of hand tailoring in Haiti, it has almost wiped out small shoemaking and shoe repairing businesses, and has put major shoe factories out of business.

‘’I agree that the poor should be able to dress themselves at low prices,’’ said Claude Ewald, general manager of Matpar, a Port- au-Prince-based supplier of glue for the shoemaking industry. But, he added that even in the context of free trade, the government should provide protection for labor-intensive trades and domestic businesses – particularly in a country where 70 percent of the active population is under-employed or jobless.

With the number of Pepe shoes coming into the market on the rise many local cobblers have been forced to close shop and the demand for Matpar’s shoe glue has dropped. In the past year the company experienced a 50 percent reduction in demand for glue.

Just a few hundred yards from Matpar, one of Haiti’s oldest and largest shoe factories is on the verge of total shut-down.

In the past year the company’s sales have dropped by 80 percent. Its more than 100 workers have been laid-off. The owner, who preferred that neither the company’s nor his name be cited, said he is frustrated that the government has not dealt with the used goods pouring into Haiti.

‘’My company is respecting the law. I pay custom duties and other taxes, therefore I feel that my business should be protected against this type of illegal and unfair trade practice,’’ he said, explaining that his company was unable to compete with the used shoes, whose prices are kept low since they are not taxed.

Haiti’s ports, which were kept tightly shut during the years of the Duvalier dictatorship ostensibly for security reasons, were only reopened to international trade in 1986 after the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Following World Bank and International Monetary Fund recommendations, tariffs have been slashed to near zero to encourage free trade. With the rise in corruption and drug trafficking, and a breakdown in customs administration, Haiti has now become an ‘’open territory.’’

In the short term the inflow of used goods may enable a poor Haitian to buy a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt for US $1.50 or $2.00, and a used Nike or Reebok tennis shoes for a similar price.

But in the long term, experts say, a venture that started under the auspices of alleviating poverty is serving to sink Haiti deeper into a cycle of dependence. (END/IPS/jb/dc/mk96)

Origin: Rome/HAITI-TRADE/ ----

[c] 1995, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS) All rights reserved

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