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Congress Approves Haiti Relief Bill

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Congress has given swift approval to the Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) legislation, which provides for liberalized textile and apparel trade to help the Haitian economy recover from January's devastating earthquake. The legislation passed both bodies by a voice vote and has been sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The legislation expands two existing trade preference programs with Haiti until 2020 and provides for more liberalized treatment of apparel imports made in Haiti from textile inputs from the United States and other countries.

The measure was passed with the support of U.S. textile and apparel manufacturers, who recognized the need to help Haiti without doing major harm to U.S. manufacturers of textiles. A letter to the Senate and House trade committees' leadership from the National Council of Textile Organizations and the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition said: "After lengthy negotiations with your staffs, we are pleased that we were able to reach an acceptable compromise on this important legislation. While the bill provides Haiti with a path forward for long-term economic recovery in the wake of its devastating earthquake, it also takes into account various sensitivities from the prospective of the textile industry."

The letter notes that the bill gives "significant increases" in duty-free treatment through a system of Tariff Preference Levels (TPLs) but also institutes sub-limits on highly sensitive products that can be exported under TPLs. The organizations said the sub-limits were a "key priority" for the domestic textile industry. They were quick to point out, however, that the emergency in Haiti presented an "exceptional case" and should not set a precedent for any future trade preference legislation.

The HELP act extends the expiration date of the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act and the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity Through Partnership Encouragement Act through 2020. In addition, it expands the duty-free treatment for products that are wholly assembled or knit-to-shape in Haiti regardless of the origin of the textile inputs. The more liberal use of TPLs permits textiles from any country to be used in apparel that receives the duty-free treatment. The TPLs on sensitive products such as trousers, T-shirts, pullovers and sweatshirts remain at current levels.

May 11, 2010