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17050: (Hermantin) Miami-Herald-Haiti's rice farmers and poultry growers have suffered greatly (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
Posted on Sun, Oct. 26, 2003
Some areas really miss tariff
Haiti's rice farmers and poultry growers have suffered greatly since trade
barriers were lowered in 1994.
By JANE REGAN
Special to The Herald
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Chicken and rice. Sounds healthy enough. But in Haiti,
where free trade has turned into a free-for-all, tons of cheap U.S. rice and
poultry have proven very unhealthy for local producers.
Haiti, the hemispheres poorest nation, with a per capita income of less than
$1 a day, is also home to the hemispheres most open market. Neighboring
Caribbean countries protect their chicken and rice farmers with 40 percent
tariffs, but foreign agribusinesses pay no more than a 5 percent tariff at
Port-au-Princes huge Croix Bossale outdoor market was named after the
hundreds of thousands of bossale or untamed African slaves sold there during
the colonial era. Just like yesterdays human cargo, almost everything for
sale there today comes off a boat.
Labyrinths lead through a chaotic jumble of sacks of U.S. rice, beans and
corn meal, many decorated with the Stars and Stripes. Street vendors shoo
flies from the piles of chicken, pork and turkey parts, all from the United
States. Cast-offs from the north and brand-new Panamanian shirts and pants
are stacked next to Dominican cooking oil, Guatemalan sugar, Venezuelan
cookies and Italian tomato paste.
PRICE OF SECURITY
Haiti cant blame its low import tariffs -- today between zero and 15 percent
-- on any regional trade agreement. It was part of the deal President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide made with the International Monetary Fund (IMF),
Washington and other aid donors on the eve of his return to office in 1994
following three years of military rule.
U.S. soldiers would guarantee security, Aristide was told, but financial
security came at a price. The donors and lenders would open the money
spigots only when the economy opened up: privatize state-owned industries,
float the currency, the gourde, and cut import tariffs.
''It was a must,'' said Marie Michelle Rey, then minister of Finance and now
head of the government office that coordinates with the 15-member Caribbean
Community, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the proposed Free Trade
Area of the Americas (FTAA). ``If you dont have an agreement with the IMF,
youre dead in the water. You cant do anything.''
Eight years later, a lot of farmers are ''dead in the water'' too.
''Directly and indirectly, when the chicken industry shut down, we lost
10,000 jobs,'' said a member of Haitis now-defunct Agricultural Producers
Association who spoke on condition of anonymity. ``By 1998, it was all
At its height, Haitis chicken agribusiness hatched 6 million eggs a year and
bought thousands of tons of local corn. But suddenly the country opened
itself to the cheap dark chicken and turkey meat that finicky Americans wont
buy. No tariffs, no quotas, no subsidies to local producers. American
companies sold more than $17 million worth of poultry and parts here last
Haitis chicken industry went beak-up.
''I used to work there,'' said the grizzled Dieudonné Pierre, 53, as he
peered through the locked gate at some of the 70 buildings in Thomazeau, 20
miles east of Port-au-Prince, that were part of two poultry plants. Once
full of clucking broilers, now they host only dust and rats. ''Now I make
charcoal and grow some sorghum during the rainy season,'' he said.
At her table under a broken beach umbrella in the Croix Bossale marketplace,
Olide Eloie, 36, is happy to sell the American ''second-hand chicken,'' as
it is commonly called.
''They sell better than Haitian chicken,'' she said, batting big black flies
away from the piles of pink legs. ``I can sell a [44-pound] case in a day.''
A Haitian chicken sells for about $5.50, but the same weight of U.S. chicken
parts sells for less than $2.50.
PRICED OFF MARKET
The same goes for rice. Six pounds of Haitian rice sells for between $1.70
and $3, but the American product known here as ''Miami Rice'' is $1.45.
Imports of U.S. rice have doubled since 1995, to 200,000 metric tons per
year, making Haiti one of U.S. growers' best customers.
''Haitian rice just cant compete,'' acknowledged economist Henri Bazin, who
heads the Haitian Economists Association. ``Liberalization happened here
overnight. All of a sudden. Maybe it was too brutal.''
Rey defends Haitis slashing of tariffs by saying the government had no
choice, and that anyway lower tariffs mean lower prices. ''The consumer
wins,'' Rey said.
But only if market prices are in fact lower. In Haiti, they are not really.
As Haiti's economy ground to a halt over the past eight years, in part
because the agricultural sector stagnated, the country's currency lost
two-thirds of its value. That means chicken and rice cost about the same
today as they did in 1995.
And only if consumers are buying. With a contracting economy, nearly half
the population malnourished and some 2.4 million people living in extreme
poverty, chances are most Haitians arent buying a lot of chicken and rice.
To the contrary, Bazin noted, cheap imports and the governments failure to
support peasant farmers is driving them off the land and into the cities
Bazin believes free trade can benefit countries that plan right, but, he
noted, ``You cant compete if you dont produce.''
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