Caribbean nations have launched a lobbying blitz to renew a key trade provision that expires at the end of the month.
Lobbyists for Trinidad and Tobago reached out to a key ally on the Ways and Means Committee ahead of a Thursday hearing on the renewal of the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA), lobbying records show. Meanwhile Haiti’s ambassador to the United States scored a coveted spot as a witness at the trade subcommittee hearing after the country’s government and private sector spent more than $500,000 lobbying on the issue since 2017.
“For almost two years, the Government of Haiti has been working with CARICOM ambassadors, the Association of Industries of Haiti (ADIH), NGOs, think tanks, and US manufacturing companies to lobby Congress to pass this critical bicameral and bipartisan piece of legislation,” Ambassador Herve Denis said in prepared remarks. “The efforts of the Haitian diaspora have not gone unnoticed. I am immensely grateful for their support.”
At stake is the renewal for the next 10 years of a 2000 trade law that extends duty-free eligibility for the export of textiles and apparel made from US yarns and fabrics. The program covers eight countries: Barbados, Belize, Curacao, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Two of those countries — Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago — share the same lobbying firm, theGroupDC. The firm was founded by Arthur Collins, a senior political strategist for Barack Obama‘s 2008 campaign.
A day before this week’s hearing, theGroupDC partner Sudafi Henry shared a four-page analysis on how Trinidad and Tobago would suffer from the program’s expiration with the office of Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee’s trade panel. Sewell introduced legislation to renew the CBTPA in February 2019 along with Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio).
“Extending the U.S. Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act will expand the United States’ trade with Caribbean basin countries and increase our nation’s economic growth,” Sewell said at the time. “Improving trade with countries like Haiti and Jamaica by reauthorizing CBTPA encourages future investment, promotes job creation and lays the foundation for long-term economic development.”
Meanwhile Haiti has been working closely with Sorini, Samet & Associates, a Washington firm that specializes in international trade issues.
“For almost two years, the Government of Haiti has been working with CARICOM ambassadors, the Association of Industries of Haiti (ADIH), NGOs, think tanks, and US manufacturing companies to lobby Congress to pass this critical bicameral and bipartisan piece of legislation”Haitian Ambassador to the US Herve Denis
The firm was retained by the Haitian manufacturing trade group, ADIH, in 2017 to lobby on trade preference programs for Haiti. Sorini Samet later registered for the government of Haiti in 2019 after ADIH requested that it provide services for the Ministry of Economy and Finance. All told ADIH and the Haitian government have paid the firm more than $500,000 since 2017, according to a review of lobbying filings.
Lobbying records notably show that Sorini Samet played a behind-the-scenes role activating the Congressional Black Caucus, which has an outsize influence on issues regarding the Caribbean.
The firm notably contacted Executive Director Kevin Harris several times in the days and weeks before the Caucus released an Aug. 13, 2019 letter to House leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Sorini Samet then helped distribute the letter to relevant audiences.
“CBTPA’s extension is necessary to attract new investors to both the Caribbean Basin apparel industry and the U.S. textile industry,” the CBC letter said. “Currently, potential investors are now waiting to be sure CBTPA will be renewed before they make additional commitments. The Caribbean Basin and the United States are losing out every day that CBTPA’s renewal remains in question.”
Denis, the Haitian ambassador, singled out the CBC for praise in his prepared comments for Thursday’s hearing.