MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.
There's been tremendous attention paid to the millions of dollars Americans have given to Haiti after the recent earthquake. But many in Haiti are saying the U.S. has something far more valuable, something that can help the country make money over the long run: not charity, but customers.
Many Haitian businesspeople are saying to the U.S. government: Clothes are our biggest export, so let us make money by selling more clothes to Americans.
Adam Davidson and Chana Joffe-Walt from NPRs Planet Money have the story.
ADAM DAVIDSON: Six Haitian businesspeople, five men, one woman, flew to Las Vegas recently to - I dont think you can put this too grandly - to change the destiny of Haitis economy.
CHANA JOFFE-WALT: They were there above all else to see one guy, and he showed up at their modest booth within the very first few hours.
Mr. RON KIRK (U.S. Trade Representative): So, how many people do we have here from Haiti?
Unidentified Man #1: We are six different manufacturers.
DAVIDSON: Ladies and gentlemen: Ron Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative. The only reason Haiti even has a textile industry right now is because of this guy, or at least because of his office.
JOFFE-WALT: Haiti gets to export clothes to the U.S. duty free, a big advantage over, say, China. But Haiti right now wants more. The current deal, there's a quota. Haiti wants the quota lifted. They want to be able to sell as many clothes to the U.S. as possible. To them, its simple: lift the quota and we get out of poverty.
DAVIDSON: Things seem to be going really well for Haiti at the apparel show. Along with visiting the booth, Ron Kirk makes a big announcement, asking every clothing store and brand in the U.S. to buy more from Haiti.
JOFFE-WALT: But then, Ron Kirk moves on. Its a big world and there are a lot of poor developing countries that want a piece of Ron Kirk. He stops in on the Africa pavilion.
Unidentified Man #2: Im from the West African Trade Hub.
Mr. KIRK: Oh, yes.
Unidentified Man #2: (unintelligible), Ghana, Cameroon.
Mr. KIRK: Now, we have a great program through U.S. trade with the West African Trade Hub.
Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.
JOFFE-WALT: Then to the Middle East and the Egypt booth.
Mr. KIRK: I know this guy.
Mr. AMAR WISA(ph) (Textile Merchant, Egypt): Your Excellency, thank you very much for coming.
Mr. KIRK: How you been? Now, Im going...
Mr. WISA: Yeah.
Mr. KIRK: In a - what, next month?
Mr. WISA: Where to, Cairo?
Mr. KIRK: To Cairo.
Mr. WISA: Is that right?
Mr. KIRK: Im going...
DAVIDSON: I asked Amar Wisa why he's so excited to meet Ron Kirk. He says that without a special trade deal with the U.S., one negotiated by Ron Kirks predecessor, Egypt, like Haiti, wouldnt have an export apparel industry.
JOFFE-WALT: The U.S. really only gives out trade deals if it serves some purpose, some American purpose. Take Egypt.
Mr. WISA: President Clinton wanted to make peace between Israel and Arab nations. So, he thought of this genius protocol...
Mr. WISA: Genius, I call it genius.
DAVIDSON: The genius thing there is that Israel and Arab nations only get this special deal if they work together.
JOFFE-WALT: Middle East diplomacy through Polo shirts.
DAVIDSON: The deal is called QIZ, and Haiti wants its own version of what Egypt got.
Mr. WISA: Without the QIZ, Egypt now would have lost its share in the world of textiles and readymade garment industry.
Mr. WISA: Because China is a big, big, big, big giant. Vietnam, Bangladesh are offering very, very unbeatable prices. So, Egypt now is duty free to the U.S. if we have a component of Israeli item. So, this gives us an advantage compared to the other big, big, big, big players.
DAVIDSON: Pakistans apparel industry got a huge boost itself right after 9/11, when they got a sweet textile trade deal in exchange for helping us with the war on terror. Haiti cant offer the U.S. a solution to some major national security crisis, but what they do have right now is sympathy. Americans, of course, really care more than ever before about helping Haiti.
JOFFE-WALT: So the Haitians feel this is the moment. And they dont have a lot of time. And so the Las Vegas Trade Show, thats just the first part of the plan. Part two, and probably more important, is Congress.
Unidentified Man #3: This is important. I think we should clearly (unintelligible).
DAVIDSON: We're now across the country in a conference room in Washington, D.C. Lionel Delatour and Georges Sassine just flew in from Port-au-Prince. They're heads of the Haitian Apparel Industry Commission. And they are sitting around a table debating this point: Should we ask Congress for just a little lift in quotas, something modest and easy to get?
JOFFE-WALT: Or should Haiti go big and ask for a much for looser quota, allowing five times as many clothes into the U.S. duty free?
Unidentified Man #3: We need - we cannot leave the room without making the decision.
Unidentified Man #4: I agree. I agree with it myself. I agree with it.
Unidentified Man #5: Well, that's Im saying...
JOFFE-WALT: It takes a few more minutes, but they decide it is on. We are going big. Then they get in a cab.
Unidentified Man #6: Were going to the (unintelligible) Senate office building.
(Soundbite of closing of car door)
DAVIDSON: Georges and Lionel have done so many trips like this to Washington, D.C. They knew before the earthquake that a Korean manufacturer is ready to open a huge factory employing 8,000 people or more if they can just get those quotas lifted.
JOFFE-WALT: Yeah. Theyve been working on lifting the quotas for years. But right now, after the earthquake when they look around Capitol Hill, people listen.
DAVIDSON: First guy we run into, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.
Senator BOB CORKER (Republican, Tennessee): Oh, yes, sir...
Unidentified Man #7: How are you sir?
Sen. CORKER: ...good to see you. We - actually we're hoping to get in there on the way back from Nicaragua and Honduras and Costa Rica and all that. We're devastated by whats happening. We hope youre doing all right.
Unidentified Man #8: We are and you are going to make us be better.
Sen. CORKER: Yeah. Hey, good to see you sir.
Unidentified Man #8: When you hear what we are working with all your senators.
Sen. CORKER: You doing all right? Everything going right?
Unidentified Man #8: Very well sir. I ran into Senator Dodd yesterday and I strongly urge that he should try to make a visit to Haiti.
Sen. CORKER: We'll be down there soon. Okay?
Unidentified Man #8: We want to thank you for your continuous support.
Sen. CORKER: Certainly, were going to look at this, this afternoon. I better go vote, guys.
DAVIDSON: Walking around the Capitol, everyone is telling the Haitians: We're eager to do anything we can to help Haiti. But it is very far from a sure thing that Haiti will get a new and better trade deal. Strange as it may seem, there are people who dont want it to happen.
JOFFE-WALT: Some textile manufacturers in North Carolina tell Congress if Haiti gets a bigger quota it might end up hurting companies right here in the U.S.
DAVIDSON: There's actually a big battle going on in your closet. The Gap, Levis, they want to make more clothes in Haiti. They want the quota lifted. Hanes, which already produces a lot of T shirts in Haiti, maybe more than anyone, is arguing that now is not the time to lift the quota.
JOFFE-WALT: Lifting the quota could mean more competitors in Haiti.
DAVIDSON: It is strange walking around with these guys to realize that all these U.S. concerns - North Carolina factory owners fighting the Gap, Levis up against Hanes - will determine the fate of the Haitian economy.
JOFFE-WALT: Yeah. It could be that a housing scandal in Upper Manhattan will do more to hurt the Haitians cause than anything else.
DAVIDSON: Yeah. Because of that scandal, Congressman Charlie Rangel, one of Haitis greatest allies in Congress, is stepping down today from running the committee that decides on trade quotas.
JOFFE-WALT: It is likely that Congress will pass some sort of improved trade deal for Haiti some time this month. Whether or not they'll go big, we still dont know.
Im Chana Joffe-Walt.
DAVIDSON: And Im Adam Davidson, NPR News.