Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Haiti... how soon we forget


With our own troubles at home, it is easy to forget the pain and suffering a few steps from our door in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. But that we must not allow.

The reconstruction of Port-au-Prince is an opportunity for the global community to help boost the economic development of Haiti by the delivery of the enormous amount of aid which has been promised. There are three important and interrelated aspects to this reconstruction.

First, is the humanitarian relief for what was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Second, the physical and institutional reconstruction of the largest city and economic and political capital of Haiti. Third, the opportunity to set in motion a process of sustainable economic development which will lift Haiti permanently from the ranks of the world's most destitute and poverty-stricken people.

The economic reconstruction of Haiti will, of necessity, involve a massive infusion of development assistance for infrastructure and human resource development. An indispensable mechanism is the provision of preferential trade arrangements which will allow Haiti to earn its way by exporting to global markets. These preferential trade arrangements also serve to attract direct foreign investment, thus enabling Haiti to be an economic platform capitalising on the global market.

Haiti has been the sleeping giant of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) regional economic integration process. It has been a part of Caricom only in name and spirit. Differences in language and poor logistics have contributed to Haiti's isolation among its Caribbean brothers. However, a major cause has been the insularity and xenophobia of the English-speaking Caribbean whose engagement has been more patronising than genuine.

The earthquake was also a political tremor in Caricom and the region reached out in a meaningful way for the first time, nowhere more magnificently than Jamaica's truly noble humanitarian mission in the immediate aftermath of the devastation. Caricom has appointed former Jamaican prime minister Percival Patterson as its special envoy to help Haiti to articulate its needs in the international arena and to be interlocutor at the highest political levels. All of this is commendable, but it really does not integrate Haiti into Caricom in an economic sense.

The means for integrating Haiti into the Caricom economy is at hand. The enormous expenditure of development assistance and humanitarian aid will create a demand for goods and services which Caricom is ideally suited, by location and comparative advantage, to supply. Haiti's imports from Caricom would not only link the markets but be a stimulus package for the struggling Caricom economies. This would create a multiplier effect as Caricom in turn purchases products, eg handicrafts, apparel from Haiti.

The development assistance expenditure can simultaneously boost the economies of Haiti and the rest of Caricom, and significantly increase the size of the regional market, at last reaching a critical mass that can offer economies of scale in production, making exports internationally competitive.

Governments can encourage a market-driven process by having the international community earmark a certain share of development aid procurement to be sourced from Caricom-made products and services.

To be convinced, we need just look at the miraculous transformation underway in formerly dirt poor China.

May 25, 2010