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Congress Works On Tariff-Lowering Legislation For Haiti As Preval Meets With U.S. Leaders In Washington

The Senate Finance Committee’s chair, Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and top Republican, Charles Grassley (Iowa), are working with colleagues in the House on legislation that would lower tariffs in an effort to help Haiti’s apparel industry and help the country recover from the major January earthquake, CQ Politics reports. “The bipartisan effort comes as Senate Finance leaders consider ramping up their work to broadly overhaul multiple U.S. trade preference programs, which lower or eliminate U.S. tariffs on a wide range of products from many developing countries,” according to the publication (3/9).

Under consideration is “expanding Haiti’s current duty-free access for clothing to aid its economic recovery,” Reuters writes. “Washington allows developing countries to export thousands of their goods to the United States without paying export duties under six different trade-preference program aimed [at] promoting foreign economic development,” and some of the programs will expire this year, prompting the calls for reform, according to Reuters.

“Many lawmakers favor expanding Haiti’s current duty-free access for clothing to aid its economic recovery. Key staffers on the Senate Finance Committee and the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee have been working to come up with a bi-partisan bill that could win easy congressional approval,” Reuters reports (Palmer, 3/9).

On Tuesday, during Haitian President Rene Preval’s visit to Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned against a long postponement of the country’s elections, which are supposed to take place early next year, the Washington Times reports. “Everybody will understand that, due to the conditions, how difficult it will be to respect that timetable and to organize elections,” Preval said, adding, “Political stability is something fundamental for the development of a country.”

Clinton said it is essential to have trusted Haitian leaders since the U.S. government “has supplied nearly $700 million in assistance,” and approximately “half of all households in America have contributed something to private relief efforts.”

“We must work toward elections to ensure the stability and legitimacy of the Haitian government,” she said. “I assured President Preval that the United States would work with the international community to hold elections as soon as appropriate” (Kralev, 3/10). Preval is scheduled to meet Wednesday with President Barack Obama who is expected to renew his “pledge of U.S. support for efforts to rebuild the quake-shattered Caribbean nation,” according to Agence France-Presse/AsiaOne News.

“Topping the agenda for the meeting, which comes ahead of an international donors’ conference later this month, were ongoing relief, recovery, and reconstruction efforts in Haiti,” AFP/AsiaOne News reports (3/10).

The Washington Post takes a closer look at Preval’s visit to Washington. “Preval is likely to find a sympathetic but skeptical audience when he meets with President Obama, congressional leaders and other officials who have seen past assistance to Haiti evaporate in a miasma of mismanagement and corruption,” according to the newspaper. “Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff and point person on Haiti, said U.S. officials ‘want to have an understanding of their long-term goals, of the priorities they have, and their vision for doing things differently'” (Sheridan/Booth, 3/10).

U.S. Naval Ship Comfort To Leave Haiti, U.S. Troops Withdrawing

In related news, the U.S. military hospital ship Comfort is returning to the U.S. from Haiti, the Associated Press reports. “A military spokesman says the Comfort will leave Wednesday and be back in Baltimore on March 14. … The total number of U.S. forces in Haiti is expected to drop to about 8,000 in coming days, down from a peak of around 20,000 on Feb. 1,” the news service writes (3/9).

USA Today writes: “From Jan. 19 to Feb. 27, doctors treated nearly 1,000 patients, performed 843 surgeries, carried out 37 amputations, repaired dozens of bone fractures and delivered nine babies, says Capt. James Ware, the ship’s commanding officer. By late February, Ware says in an e-mail, the Haitian government began working with the Pan American Health Organization and other groups to improve the medical care on shore ‘with the ambition of building back to pre-earthquake medical levels'” (Sternberg, 3/9).

According to the Baltimore Sun, “doctors who have worked at some of those field hospitals are calling the ship’s departure premature. When it sails away today, they say, the Comfort will take with it the only modern, well-equipped treatment facility available to most of the island’s struggling population.” Some aid workers “encouraged the Navy to leave the Comfort in Haiti, even offering to staff it with civilian physicians, nurses and technicians,” according to the newspaper. The article includes quotes from an orthopedic surgeon who treated patients in Haiti. “Navy officials declined to address questions about the continuing health care needs in Haiti, while praising the Comfort’s accomplishments over the past seven weeks” (Little, 3/10).

Meanwhile, as the “U.S. and other foreign troops withdraw” from Haiti, Edmond Mulet, the acting U.N. mission chief, said he is confident that it will not leave a security vacuum in Haiti, Reuters writes. “The U.N. police and military force has a mandate to provide security in Haiti, but U.S. and other foreign troops took over humanitarian security, notably safeguarding the delivery of food and water, after the magnitude 7.0 quake on Jan 12.” Mulet said the U.N. will assume control over humanitarian relief in phases (Davies, 3/9).

Fundraising; NGOs; HIV/AIDS Treatment

On the fundraising front, “[f]ormer presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush announced late Tuesday that they have appointed a six-member board of former Democratic and Republican senior government officials to oversee the humanitarian fund the presidents established,” according to the Washington Post’s “44” blog.

Gary Edson, Bush’s former deputy national security adviser who helped create the Millennium Challenge Corporation, will serve as “chief executive officer of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund,” according to the blog. “The [former] presidents said more than 200,000 individuals have donated over $36 million to the fund since President Obama asked them to lead the nation’s long-term humanitarian response to the earthquake” (Rucker, 3/9).

In Haiti, NGOs, U.N. agencies and country representatives are battling over ownership of projects on the ground, the Miami Herald reports in an article examining how the earthquake has fueled divisions among parties who want to deliver aid.

“Haiti has long been fertile ground for international aid agencies that want a shot at helping the impoverished nation pull out of misery. But the politics of aid has become even sharper following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that left more than 200,000 dead and toppled hundreds of thousands of buildings. The behind-the-scenes jockeying – even as hundreds of thousands remain without adequate shelter – is likely to intensify as President Rene Preval pleads for more aid from Washington this week and the international community prepares to meet in New York later this month to discuss Haiti’s reconstruction plans” (Charles, 3/9).

IRIN/PlusNews takes an in-depth look at the earthquake’s impact on Haiti’s HIV/AIDS treatment program. “The Haitian government estimated that 24,000 Haitians were accessing [antiretrovirals] ARVS before the quake, now, fewer than 40 percent of those on treatment have been able to access ARVs, according a recent UNAIDS situation assessment. Reports by UNAIDS, the World Health Organization and key ARV providers in Haiti paint a picture of uneven treatment access in the early recovery period, and fears of new infections and drug-resistant HIV and tuberculosis (TB) are rising.”

The article includes details about ARV treatment disruption. It reports on how GHESKIO, “one of the oldest medical NGOs fighting HIV/AIDS,” and Partners In Health have been dealing with the consequences of the quake (3/10).

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