By Just Style
This article was published in Just Style August 26, 2021. We are sharing because it explains the current outlook for Haiti's apparel industry, despite enormous challenges, and its importance to the country's overall economy. It provides insights for companies interested in Haiti as a sourcing destination.
Haiti is still reeling from the assassination of its President and a major earthquake this month, but the outlook for the country's apparel and textile sector looks positive.
A wait and see approach is being adopted by officials in Haiti’s apparel and textile industry following the 7 July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, which came as the country struggled to cope with the continuing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now as the country reels from another major earthquake on 22 August, Georges Sassine, former president and a board member of the Association of Industries of Haiti (ADIH) – which represents the majority of the manufacturing industry in Haiti – said following the political turmoil in the country: “I am asking myself the same question, everybody is asking the same question – what tomorrow will be like.”
The apparel and textile industry in Haiti is one of the largest and leading industries on the island and accounts for just over 10% of its GDP.
But according to Sasssine, since the assassination of the President, an uneasy calm is pervading the everyday life of citizens, including those who work in Haiti’s garment factories.
“The country is still in shock so it’s very quiet in that sense. The last few weeks, everybody has been working normal, because of shock, is it fear, it’s quiet, we all working – no problem there.”
But it has not been exactly smooth sailing for the sector since Covid-19 hit.
Statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show there have been more than 20,000 cases of Covid-19 in Haiti, with deaths nearing 600.
Health officials fear those figures do not paint an accurate picture of the Covid situation in Haiti, as testing for the virus was said to be considerably low.
Covid-19’s impact on the apparel and textile sector though has been easy to spot.
A survey conducted in March and June 2020 by the Association of Industries of Haiti and International Finance Corporation of the World Bank soon after the coronavirus began to spread globally revealed the severity of the pandemic in the sector.
Of the 33 ADIH (L’Association des Industries d’Haïti) members polled, 67% of respondents expected at least a 30% loss in revenues in 2020 as a result of the pandemic; 28 respondents (84%) reported a total of 723 production days lost between March 20 and April 20, according to statistics quoted in the survey.
Employment by ADIH members was also impacted, declining between March and April 2020 by almost a third – moving from 53,323 people employed in March to 35,795 by the end of April.
This was, in part, due to the government-mandated month-long closure of all factories to curtail the spread of Covid-19.
When factories were given the green light to gradually resume operations at the end of March, restrictions were in place limiting the number of employees permitted in any one location at a time.
Sassine is confident that things are now looking up.
“I have to say, since the outbreak last year we [factories] have taken all the necessary measures of people wearing masks, washing hands, and keeping distance…we cannot report any real outbreak.”
Ironically, Haiti began a vaccination programme days after its President was killed, following a donation of 500,000 doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine from the US through the COVAX facility.
Before the 14 July donation arrived, Haiti had been the only country in the Americas and the Caribbean yet to commence a vaccination drive.
Also, the ADIH board member is also comforted that Haiti has yet to suffer any significant decline in exports in the clothing and textile sector.
The US Office of Textiles and Apparel (according to the US Department of Commerce) stated in 2019 that Haiti exported US$1bn worth of apparel to the US, one of its major trading partners. For 2020, “No, I don’t think they have increased but I do not think they have fallen either and if they have it is very minimal,” said Sassine.
He said the greatest challenge remains Haiti’s “regular fuel shortage.” Haiti has been plagued with petrol shortages for years, which has often impacted the standard of living and even the ability of Haitians to report for work.
With members of the apparel sector asking for more government assistance to mitigate the toll the coronavirus has left on the industry, Sassine is unsure about what will be done, and how soon, by Prime Minister Ariel Henry and his administration, whose key job is ensuring elections are held as soon as possible.
“Well, it is the US$64,000 question. At least we have a Prime Minister who is mostly accepted by everyone, but it is as if he has some kind of a moratorium. The government he has put in place – not too many people [are] happy with it, but give some credit to him knowing who he is.”
As for the magnitude 7.2 earthquake, while it was a human tragedy, leaving more than 2,000 people dead, in economic terms, Sassine noted that it was centred on southwest Haiti, sparing the capital Port au Prince and leaving the apparel sector – based largely in the north – untouched.