Originally: Aid for Haitian Textile Trade Faces Opposition

WASHINGTON – A bill that would give Haitian textile manufacturers duty-free access to the U.S. market ran into opposition in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, with Democrats and labor and industry groups voicing reservations over its benefits, especially its labor provisions.

”We can’t just hire human beings for the least amount of money,” said Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., during a hearing on the bill in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Haiti has signed the International Labor Organization convention that guarantees rights for workers, but Rangel said that was not enough. “Nobody should be impressed with . . . [ILO] standards. That’s a minimum.”

The objections could mean delays for the House bill just 100 days before the U.S. government is scheduled to eliminate import quotas affecting Chinese producers, potentially enticing producers to relocate from Haiti and other Caribbean nations to the Far East.

The bill would grant duty-free entry to the United States for apparel articles assembled in Haiti. Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, told the Committee that it was in the U.S. national interest to support Haiti, which has seen U.S. troops intervene twice in the last decade to quell political violence .

But House Democrats in the past have objected to trade bills with Latin American nations on the basis of labor rights and have succeeded in delaying congressional ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

The Haiti legislation is considered crucial to helping the textile industry in the country. The Senate has already approved its version of the bill, which conditions the benefits to a U.S. presidential certification that the Haitian government is making progress in political, economic and social reforms, including labor rights.

One labor group argued that the presidential certification requirement was too vague. Mark Levinson, chief economist for Unite Here, a union of 450,000 textile-related workers, said it was ”unlikely” that the requirement would work unless ”it is supported by a mechanism that specifically addresses the severe obstacles” to workers’ rights in Haiti.

Despite their objections, Democratic lawmakers said they hoped to reach a compromise with their Senate colleagues.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla, who supports the legislation, hoped the differences could be reconciled before the current congressional term ends early next year. ”If we don’t make it this year, we could be another six, 12, 18 months before we provide not only this very significant stimulus to the [Haitian] economy, but a signal that people . . . wish to reach and help the people of Haiti,” he said.