Haitian downplays diplomatic spat

BY JULIAN RICHARDSON Assistant Business co-ordinator richardsonj@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jamaica Observer:

A leading businessman from Haiti has downplayed the recent closure of the Haitian embassy in Jamaica and any adverse impact that may have on trade relations between the two countries.

Haiti withdrew its diplomatic agents three weeks ago, leading to suspicion that a diplomatic row between the two countries, 161 kilometres away from each other in the Caribbean Sea, could be brewing.

Haiti got a three-year concession under Caricom after its 2010 earthquake.


But Philippe Saint-Cyr, executive director of The American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) of Haiti, does not believe the Haitian Government made the move with any serious malice towards Jamaica.

It was just a routine change over of diplomats, he said, which came with the change in Haitian prime ministers — Laurent Lamothe replaced Garry Conille earlier this month — despite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Haiti citing “non-reciprocity” as one of the reasons for its March 30 pull-out.

“With the change in prime ministers, they changed all the consuls general in the US and changed a lot of the ambassadors recently,” said Saint-Cyr.

“That is probably one of the changes they wanted to do in Jamaica as well, so I think it’s business as usual,” Saint-Cyr told the Jamaica Observer after an AMCHAM Jamaica luncheon at the Pegasus hotel for a Haitian trade delegation which visited the island on Monday.

Despite the countries being so close to each other, trade between them is relatively weak. Saint-Cyr said business relations could be improved through the provision of more bilateral incentives, arguing that regional countries tend to concentrate on trade arrangements outside the area than inside.

“Everyone is focusing on having agreements with the US, Europe or Asia,” he said. “We have Caricom, but it hasn’t really pushed for positive increase in trade with the region.”

Caricom trade ministers agreed in 2010 to allow Haiti to export goods within the single market on a non-reciprocal preferential basis for three years.

Haiti asked for the concession at the thirtieth meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development after the catastrophic earthquake in Janauary 2010.

The private sector has also taken steps to form stronger links with Haiti.

Jamaica Broilers launched a joint venture with a Haitian partner in 2010 to provide feed, chicks, pullets, equipment and technical advice to poultry farmers, with the initial investment reported to be between US$2 and US$3 million.

Haitian-based Gilbert Bigio/Reuven Bigio (GB) Group — the conglomerate that introduced Digicel to Haiti — inked a deal last year to buy the fuels marketing and aviation businesses of Chevron in Jamaica, which trades under its Texaco brand here.

Still, according to Saint-Cyr, there should be much more business between the nations, suggesting in particular that Haiti’s financial sector could do with Jamaican expertise.

“The main benefit that Jamaica can give Haiti is a strong financial market,” he said. “The biggest thing we need right now is financing … and an expertise in what you have done in building your infrastructure — highways and roads,” he said.


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