U.S., Haiti accord paves way for Korean factories
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — U.S. and Haitian officials signed an agreement Monday with a South Korean clothing manufacturer to build garment factories that they said will employ 10,000 people in this quake-ravaged nation.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed the memorandum along with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and the heads of the International Finance Corporation and Inter-American Development Bank. Chairman Woong-Ki Kim signed on behalf of his Seoul-based Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd.
The agreement, signed on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, is part of an effort to inject foreign investment and create jobs for Haiti, a deeply poor Caribbean country.
Clinton also signed an agreement with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to provide a combined $50 million toward rebuilding the damaged and underfunded general hospital of the State University of Haiti.
Restoring Haiti's once-profitable garment assembly sector has been a cornerstone of economic plans for Haiti even before the Jan. 12 quake — pushed most notably by the secretary of state's husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, in his capacity as U.N. special envoy to Haiti. The U.S. Congress lent further support by extending tax-free import advantages for Haitian-assembled textiles.
But those efforts have been criticized by labor groups, students and others in Haiti, who say the factories pay workers too little to feed their families. Under a compromise law passed in 2009, Haitian garment factories must pay workers about $3 a day — less than two-thirds the minimum wage for other jobs in the country.
Clinton rejected that criticism Monday as she praised the agreement.
"These are not just any jobs. These are good jobs with fair pay that adhere to international labor standards," Clinton said. She added that the agreement sends the message "Haiti is open for business again."
Bellerive thanked the U.S. State Department for brokering the agreement, calling it a "great day for Haiti."
The proposed industrial park will be put in one of two locations: an undeveloped area north of Port-au-Prince or on the country's northern coast near the port of Cap-Haitien, the Inter-American Development Bank said in a statement.
The Associated Press first reported Sae-A Trading was talking with Haitian officials and businessmen in July about putting a garment factory park north of the capital near government-expropriated land at Corail-Cesselesse.
AP learned those negotiations were handled by Gerard-Emile "Aby" Brun, who also headed the Haitian government commission that relocated several thousand homeless families to a parcel of land his company owned at Corail.
Criticism by the international aid group Oxfam and others that the relocation site selected was too remote grew after much of the supposedly flood-safe camp was destroyed by water in a summer storm. The camp would likely be the primary source of workers for those factories.
Sae-A Trading is a major supplier for Wal-Mart, Target, Gap, Banana Republic and Levi's, the International Finance Corporation said. Among its 20 existing factories are plants in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from New York.