Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rebuilding Haiti, Stitch by Stitch

Reprinted from the International Trade Administration's
     web site:  URL:

 May 25, 2011 at 4:02 pm 

     Maria Dybczak is an international trade specialist
     in the International Trade Administration’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.

     Today, the International Trade Administration’s Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), gave a virtual welcome to about 85 people as they participated in a one-hour Webinar on U.S. trade preferences for imports of Haitian textiles and apparel. The participants came from both the private and public sectors, and included representatives of leading U.S. retailers and importers, U.S. and Haitian manufacturers, as well as Congressional committee staff and senior officials from other U.S. agencies.
House votes to give Haiti textiles a boost
House votes to give Hattians a Boost
     Ever since the earthquake of January 2010 that brought such incredible devastation to Haiti, ITA has been working closely with other federal agencies, the Haitian government, and U.S. retailers and importers to encourage recovery and to better assure the long-term sustainability of the Haitian economy.
     One of these efforts is focused on the Haitian textile and apparel industry. Apparel makes up more than 80 percent of imports from Haiti to the United States. And as the largest manufacturing sector in Haiti, the apparel industry plays an important role in attracting long-term investment and opportunities.
     The availability of duty-free access to the United States, the world’s largest apparel market, provides an enormous competitive advantage to Haitian producers. As a result, the value of apparel imports from Haiti increased by 20 percent over the past 12 months, representing nearly $600 million. It has been estimated that new development in the textile and apparel sector could create at least 20,000 new jobs in Haiti by 2013.
     It’s trade such as this—which builds on Haiti’s existing economic strengths—that will help Haiti recover from the devastation of a year ago.

If you would like to listen to an audio recording of the Webinar, or see a copy of OTEXA’s presentation, they will both be available on the OTEXA website by the end of this week.

Related Stories.

An Entrepreneur Manufactures A Haitian Recovery
Haiti pins hopes on textile industry

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reflections on the Doha Forum

I've been back from the Doha Forum for a week and I am still trying to digest the wealth of information and my observations at the conference.  Over 600 participants from 100 nations were represented. From Algeria to Yemen, the Arab nations of the Middle East and North Africa were clearly represented.  Yet, the participants came from Afghanistan and Albania, from Belize and Brazil, from Canada and China, and from the United States and Uzbekistan.

Even without the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt, this conference attracted the best minds (mine excluded) from around the world to discuss the underpinnings of democracy and free trade.  What does it take to form a democracy?  And is that the best or the only form of government that provides its people freedom?  What does it mean to be free?  Can one have a democracy in a monarchy?  And does a democracy promote the most equitable, most ubiquitous channels for free trade?

The Arab Spring, as the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are now being called, raises new questions.  What is it that the people want?  This question was asked many times during the conference.  And perhaps the best answer was in terms of what the people do not want.  "We clearly do not want autocracy; nor do we want to see a theocracy," was often the response.  "We want freedom to live as we wish, freedom to work where we want, freedom to express our opinions without fear of reprisals."  "And we want jobs."

In Egypt, over 50% of the population is under the age of twenty-five.  Of those, the vast majority are college-education, yet unemployment is running at 25%.  That appears to be a dangerous combination: the youth have been denied hope of a future and, coupled with their increased awareness of the world around them from the Internet, they are discovering that they deserve more.  The lack of jobs in Egypt and other countries in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) is clearly the spark that ignited the waves of protests.

As an American, I was interested in how I would be received since we had just killed Osama bin Laden days before my arrival.  The tone was friendly to me and all Americans (and the West in general).  There was only one dissenting opinion about bin Laden's death - - and that was from Pakistan  based on their concern for their national sovereignty.  But even Pakistan's opinion was muted in the wave of the democratic reforms being proposed throughout the Middle East.

The young admire Americans; they are not so happy about our foreign policy however.  They are skeptical when the US Government and The West intervenes and offers to "help."  They remember, for example, that the U.S. backed the Mubarak regime on the basis that a stable totalitarian government in Egypt was better than an unstable democratic one.  And the Arab nations express their concern over a return of "colonial powers:"  Britain in Egypt, Italy in Tunisia, and France in Algeria to name a few. And of course, the US involvement in Iraq as well as our historical, and in their perception, the U.S.' unilateral support of Israel.

The collapse of Tunisia and Egypt, by non-violent means, has ignited a signal flare throughout the Arab region, where they now see positive change that an advancement toward the freedoms that democracy brings as not only possible, but probable.  This is "Democracy 3.0" for them; after the democratic reforms of Asia and Central Europe, the Arab peoples, especially the young, see this as their chance to change and mold their destiny.

More to come.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my!

Sheiks and Generals, Ambassadors and Ministers, filled the hall at the opening of the conference this morning.  I felt a little like Alice looking down the Golden Brick road at the cadre of guests, speakers, and dignitaries at the Doha Forum.  Reverence Jesse Jackson arrived to a rising chorus of excitement and camera flashes.  Handshakes, and kisses, and nose rubs were exchanged as His Excellency Sheikh Hamad Bin Jabr Al Thani and   H.H. Heir Apparent, Tamin Bin Hamad Al Thani arrived.

Then it begins.  The Doha Forum, touted as the "world's foremost forum on democracy" opened with H.E. Sheikh Al Thani's statement that "human rights is borne of all religions" and that for the past 5 months, we have been "witnessing the popular revolutions for individual and national dignity, for individual freedom, and for individual security."  "A new player in Arab public opinion" has been heard -- that of the Arab people.  And it is up to the people to "transcend the fear" of change and push forward.

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Rev. Jesse Jackson & H.E. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani
Reverend Jesse Jackson reminded the audience that despite the many implementations of the term, 'democracy,' it has but one meaning, "of, by, and for the people."  The Arab awakening of the past five months has been termed the "Arab Spring." But unlike the Prague Spring of 1968, where the Czechoslovakians were forced to endure another 30 years of repression and disappointment, the Arab community, and indeed the world, needs to reach out and support the people in their struggle for their human rights: individual freedom, human dignity, jobs, health care, and education.

So the Doha Forum began.  It will take me days, if not weeks, to absorb and integrate today's information into a more cohesive understanding of events and how they apply to trade, but the second day is now beginning....

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dawn in Doha

Dawn. I was somewhat surprised to see the sun up so early here. But perhaps even more surprising was the activity as I observed the Muslim first call to prayer at 4:52 AM.  Almost in unison, people stopped what they were doing, produced their prayer rug, and began their prayers, which lasted about 10 minutes. Then back to their daily activity.

Muslims pray at least five times a day.
  • Fajr (pre-dawn): This prayer starts off the day with the remembrance of God; it is performed before sunrise.
  • Dhuhr (noon): After the day's work has begun, one breaks shortly after noon to again remember God and seek His guidance.
  • 'Asr (afternoon): In the late afternoon, people are usually busy wrapping up the day's work, getting kids home from school, etc. It is an important time to take a few minutes to remember God and the greater meaning of our lives.
  • Maghrib (sunset): Just after the sun goes down, Muslims remember God again as the day begins to come to a close.
  • 'Isha (evening): Before retiring for the night, Muslims again take time to remember God's presence, guidance, mercy, and forgiveness.
Muslims are reminded of the daily prayer times through the calling of the adhan broadcast through many mosques in the city.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Jet Lag is a bitch

3AM.  Still awake.  As cosmopolitan as this city and hotel is, there isn't much open this time of the morning.


On the other hand, I learned how to insert a local clock with the current time in Doha. :)

The conference opens at 10AM with H.E. Sheikh Hamas Bin Jassim Al Thani, Primer Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs giving the welcoming speech.  The Heir Apparent, H.E. Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani follows with the opening speech.

The first session is titled Insights on the World Political Scene, Transformations in the Middle East, moderated by David Foster of Al Jazeera.  Panelists include H.E. Dr. Salih, the P.M. Iraqi-Kurdistan, H.E. Carl Bildt,the Foreign Minister of Sweeden, H.E. Luis Amado, the Foreign Minister of Portugal, H.E. Maurice Leroy, Minister of the City, France, and our own Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights activist from the United States.

Al Jazeera, means "The Penninsula" in Arabic and is based on the Qatari peninsula.   Al jazeera (in English and Arabic) professes to be a staunchly independent news source for the Middle East, even if that means being critical of the local government.  So, far the news I've watched bears this out.  According to them, the dominant views on the death of Osama bin Laden is very supportive. Even Yemen, bin Laden's 'home country' stated that they hope that this is the "beginning to the end of the era of terrorism."  Some interesting videos and perspectives on bin Laden's death can be found on their web site here.

Arrived in Doha

8:30 PM in Doha. Qatar Airways was a first class airline all the way. Through customs in a snap with nowhere near the hassle entering the U.S. The only glitch was arriving and there was no one there to greet me and take me to the hotel.
This was the first time I ever traveled to a foreign country and didn't know where I was staying when I got there. After about 10 minutes walking back and forth looking for someone holding a sign with my name, a Doha Forum representative found me and I was taken to the Sheraton Doha Hotel.

The view from the hotel is fabulous.  Skyscrapers were lit up and reflecting off the Red Sea.

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Doha at Night (viewed from the Sheraton)

The conference starts in the morning.  More then.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Doha or bust

On the way to Houston to catch Qatar Airways to Doha.  A 14 hour direct flight and I'll be there.  Looking ahead, the weather in Doha is about the same as in Austin, except it has only about 20% humidity!

I am still unsure where I am staying when I get there.  Since the Qatari government is picking up the tab, they say trust them.  They will have someone meet me at the airport and drive me to the conference/hotel.  I sure hope so!   The conference was at the Ritz Carelton last year on the northern end of the city.  That little problem aside, the trip should be uneventful.

Seems everyone I talk to about going to the Middle East asks me the same question.  It is safe?  I suppose that shows how little we Americans know about the Middle East, or perhaps it shows how effective the fear mongers have been since 9/11.  Qatar has been the home of the U.S. Central Command since the first Iraq war and Qatar is a close ally to the U.S.  And Bahrain next door is home to the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet.   I've also talked to several servicemen who have told me that they are often flown to Qatar for R&R!

As for being in the desert, here is a picture from the Ritz hotel.  Hmm, I can cast that far...maybe I need to pack a fishing rod.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Where in the world is Doha?

Country map and flag of Qatar

Doha is the capital city of Qatar and is the only major city in the country.  Qatar has a citizen population of 450,000, which makes it about as large as Austin.  The country is a peninsula off the east coast of Saudi Arabia roughly the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Yet, it is one of the richest and more progressive nations in the Middle East with a per capita income of $67,000 (compared to roughly $40,000 in the U.S).

Doha has also been the site of the World Trade Organization's "Doha Round" of trade talks since 2001.

The People
Qataris are descended from a number of migratory tribes that came to Qatar in the 18th century from neighboring Gulf emirates while others are descended from Persian merchants. Most of Qatar's 1.5 million inhabitants live in Doha, the capital.

Foreigners with temporary residence status make up about three-fourths of the population. Foreign workers comprise as much as 85% of the total population and make up about 90% of the total labor force. Most are South and Southeast Asians, Egyptians, Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, Yemenis, and Iranians. About 8,000 U.S. citizens reside in Qatar.

For centuries, the main sources of wealth were pearling, fishing, and trade. At one time, Qataris owned nearly one-third of the Persian Gulf fishing fleet. With the Great Depression and the introduction of Japan's cultured-pearl industry, pearling in Qatar declined drastically.

The Qataris are mainly Sunni Muslims. Islam is the official religion and is the basis of Qatar's legal system. Civil courts have jurisdiction over commercial law. Arabic is the official language but and English is widely spoken.  More information on the country can be found on the U.S. Department of State web site.

When the Ottomans left at the beginning of World War I, the British recognized Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani as ruler. The Al Thani family had lived in Qatar for 200 years. 

Invited to Doha

The government of Qatar has invited me (as the representative of the International Business Institute at Austin Community College) to participate in a three day conference on Democracy and Free Trade.  The conference is being held in Doha, Qatar on May 9-13.  As I understand it, only 3 from Texas were selected for this honor and ACC is the only Community College in the U.S. that was invited.

If a conference on Democracy, Development and Free Trade is not interesting enough, one being held in the Middle East during these turbulent times is a tremendous opportunity to explore the democratic movements that are emerging in the region as well as the business opportunities for Texans as a result.

The invitation has got me thinking about the nature of a democracy and the associated freedoms necessary to develop a climate of free trade.

So, ov er the course of the next few weeks, I hope to blog about the trip to Qatar and about the events during the conference.  I will try to post at least daily.