SOURCE: CARIBBEAN 360.COM
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, October 2, 2009 – Hundreds of foreign and local private sector representatives have gathered in the poverty-struck Caribbean nation of Haiti, in the largest investment conference ever held here, to explore opportunities in industries including garment manufacturing, sustainable energy production and agribusiness.
The international business meeting was organised by the Inter-American Development Bank, the largest multilateral donor operating in Haiti, with financial support from the Canadian government and the backing of the Haitian government and the United Nations special envoy for Haiti, former US President Bill Clinton.
More than 500 private sector participants attended the meeting which began yesterday, as well as 150 officials and delegates from non-governmental institutions. Representatives from large US, Canadian, Dominican, Brazilian and Colombian corporations, among others, were present, underscoring Haiti’s increased stability and improved outlook.
“For too long Haiti has been seen as a land of missed opportunities,” said IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno. “I believe Haiti is now ready and able to attract private investments.”
While the largest foreign delegation came from the United States, the event was of hemispheric proportions. The largest Latin American delegation arrived from the neighboring Dominican Republic, but Brazil, Colombia and Canada contributed numerous participants. Potential foreign investors from 14 countries registered for the event.
“Even a few a years ago I could not have imagined an event like this here in Port-au-Prince,” said President Clinton. “But today’s event, with hundreds of international businesspeople, highlights the significant opportunities that exist in Haiti to create jobs, increase incomes and enhance the growth of the private sector.”
In her welcoming remarks, Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis told the visitors: “Haiti is open for business. We in government are doing our share. We are ready and willing to work with all of you to achieve success but time is of the essence.”
With IDB assistance, the Haitian government has established a national committee on competitiveness, including private sector representatives, to identify bottlenecks and improve the business environment.
Haiti is also investing heavily in upgrading its road network to reduce travel time between its main cities, as well as to increase the reliability of electricity services. The government has also cut the time to start a new business by more than half.
The IDB’s private sector strategy rests on two pillars: making Haiti more competitive and targeting sectors that generate jobs. Agribusiness, sustainable energy and garment manufacturing have been identified as sectors with strong potential to generate jobs.
Garments bring the country US$130 million in net exports and generate about 25,000 jobs, with a potential to increase this five-fold with the HOPE II Act, which provides Haitian apparel exports duty-free access to the US market.
Agriculture is another sector that holds promise. Investments in processing facilities and reducing logistical bottlenecks by improving rural roads could help Haiti more than double its mango exports. Fruits and essential oils represent US$20 million in exports annually, which could be boosted to hundreds of millions.
Haiti has potential to develop several clean and sustainable energy sources, including wind and solar power. Regarding biofuels and biomass, there are more than 500,000 hectares of arid and semi-arid land where hardy, soil-fixing crops could be grown.
The bulk of IDB’s portfolio of more than US$700 million in soft loans and grants for Haiti is going into basic infrastructure, agriculture, disaster prevention, water and sanitation, education, electricity and state modernization.
The IDB invests in strengthening the Haitian government’s operational capacity so the country can work on more development programs. Until a couple of years ago, Haiti was absorbing about US$60 million in annual IDB disbursements. Last year the IDB disbursed US$125 million.