Haiti - Country Commercial Guide
Market Overview

Discusses key economic indicators and trade statistics, which countries are dominant in the market, and other issues that affect trade.

Last published date: 2021-09-25

The Caribbean country of Haiti occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola, sharing a land border with its eastern neighbor, the Dominican Republic. Its capital is Port-au-Prince. The country’s economy is heavily dependent on trade ties with its neighbors, particularly the Dominican Republic and the United States. Although the business climate presents challenges, Haiti’s legislation encourages foreign direct investment, and the Haitian investment code provides the same rights, privileges, and protection to local and foreign companies. The Government of Haiti provides two types of incentives for foreign investment: customs duty incentives and income tax incentives. Import and export policies are non-discriminatory and are not based on nationality.    

Haiti continues to face significant challenges and civil unrest. With the timing of national and local elections being uncertain, it is anticipated that political instability and a more short-term economic policy focus will compound the workings of an already opaque bureaucracy.  An interim Haitian government established following the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise is, among other things, responding to an August 2021 magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck the southwestern part of the country, investigating the assassination of the President, expanding its COVID-19 vaccination efforts, working with the Haitian National Police to promote security and the rule of law and combat burgeoning gang violence, and coordinating with the international community to establish the conditions necessary for Haitians to vote as soon as feasible. At the same time, the economy is expected to shrink slightly in 2021, while the government has limited ability to provide a fiscal stimulus to the economy. 

Former President Jovenel Moïse had designated agriculture, energy, transportation, and water as key investment sectors for development in Haiti in his February 2017 inauguration speech, specifically prioritizing the following areas. Prime Minister Henry and other interim government leaders have made public statements re-committing to these priorities in 2021:

  • Reform the state apparatus and maintain political and social stability;
  • Transform Haiti into an investment destination;
  • Increase agricultural production and improve the environment;
  • Build energy, transportation, and port infrastructure;
  • Reinforce water and sanitation infrastructure;
  • Improve the infrastructure and quality of the education system, and
  • Promote stability through social projects.

The United States is one of Haiti’s top trading partners. In 2020, the United States imported $837 million in goods from Haiti, down 16.9 percent from $1.05 billion in 2019. Of the 2020 total imports from Haiti, the United States imported $763 million in apparel from the Haitian garment sector through the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement and Haiti Economic Lift Program (HOPE/HELP) Acts and Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) legislation, constituting more than 91 percent of total exports to the United States. Haiti’s garment sector remains of interest to large-scale manufacturing operations. Beyond the apparel assembly sector, the shipping and telecommunications sectors attract a significant number of foreign investors.

In 2020, Haiti continued to experience an economic downturn, with annual inflation of 22.7 percent and volatility in the country’s currency, the Haitian gourde (HTG), with 16 percent depreciation in 2019 against the dollar contrasted with an appreciation of nearly 28 percent during calendar year 2020.  Following recurring periods of country-wide shutdowns due to protests in 2019 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, businesses in Haiti also continue to face challenges in 2021 due to energy supply issues, political instability and persistent gang violence that interrupt some commercial activity.

While there are business opportunities in the country, Haiti’s investment and trade climate is challenging. Haiti ranks near the bottom globally in well-known indices tracking ease of doing business and corruption perceptions. Impediments to investment include poor infrastructure, weak investor protections, uneven contract enforcement, high energy costs, and corruption.

Exports of U.S. goods to Haiti totaled $1.39 billion in 2020, and the United States remains

Haiti’s priority partner in international trade. Products that comprise the great majority of Haitian exports to the United States, in order of importance, are 1) apparel; 2) fruit and other agricultural products, and 3) essential oils such as vetiver.

U.S. companies may consider exporting to or establishing businesses in Haiti for the following reasons:

  • The Haitian economy is one of the most open economies in the Caribbean;
  • Haiti offers proximity to the United States and many Haitian businesspeople speak fluent English;
  • U.S. goods comprise over 32 percent of Haiti’s total imports;

Four international security-certified ports (Port au Prince, Cap Haitian, Lafito, and St. Marc) provide maritime access to Haiti;

Two international airports (Port au Prince and Cap Haitian) usually offer multiple daily flights between Haiti and the United States. The airport in Cap Haitian facilitates commerce and provides quick access to the Caracol and CODEVI industrial parks located in free-trade zones in the northeastern region. 

According to the Central Bank of Haiti, Haiti’s total imports reached $3.7 billion during fiscal year (FY) 2020, while total exports were valued at $886 million. Imports represent more than 70 percent of goods sold inside Haiti.

Following a contraction of 1.7% percent of GDP in 2019 in the context of the political turmoil and social discontent, GDP contracted by an estimated 3.3% in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the already weak economy and political instability. Haiti’s economy was particularly affected by setbacks in the agriculture sector, which suffered from localized droughts, and the service sector, which has been affected by the pandemic, violence and gang activities, and political unrest. The economy has been battered by multiple shocks since mid-2018 and was already facing significant challenges prior to COVID-19. Past marginal gains in poverty reduction have been undone by the recent shocks, with current estimates pointing to a poverty rate of nearly 60% in 2020, compared to the last official national estimate of 58.5% in 2012. According to the World Bank, Haitian gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated at US$1,149.50 per capita.  About two thirds of the poor live in rural areas.

The public debt-to-GDP ratio increased from 47.7 percent to 51.9 percent over fiscal year 2020, per the International Monetary Fund.  The country experienced rapid currency depreciation against the dollar of 25 percent and rampant inflation of 20 percent at the end of the fiscal year.  The economic decline was combined with poor administrative capacity to collect revenue. The fiscal deficit, however, was contained due to cuts in capital investment and social programs.  Energy subsidies continued to be a fiscal burden limiting the fiscal space for spending in growth-enhancing sectors. The economic outlook reflects continuing downside risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Increasingly, the budget deficit has been financed by the Central Bank, and annual inflation reached 12.7 percent as of June 2021. Inflation is attributed to weak domestic production, a chronic budget deficit, and instability of the Haitian gourde against the U.S. dollar. The government’s ability to collect taxes continues to be a challenge, with the most recently reported internal revenue collections reaching 12.6 percent of GDP in FY2018, according to the Central Bank.

Haiti remains vulnerable to natural disaster, including hurricanes and earthquakes. According to the Haitian Ministry of Environment, a total of 499 earthquakes with magnitudes ranging from 1 to 4.9 on the Richter scale were recorded across the entire country for the year of 2020. The seismic activity was greatest in the departments of North-West, the South-East, and the West. Further, Haiti experienced a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake in the southwest part of the country on August 14, 2021 that significantly damaged the departments of South, Nippes, and Grand Anse.  

The number of earthquakes recorded in 2020 by department:

- North-West: 168

- South-East: 130

- West: 98

- North: 25

- Nippes: 25

- Artibonite: 20

- South: 16

- Center: 7

- North-East: 6

- Grand’Anse: 4