Interview on the latest business trends in Haiti with Hervé Denis, President of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • June 28, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
Haitian Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1895, currently has over 1200 members and continues to be one of the leading organizations in Haiti to advance Haitian businesses. In an interview with Mr. Hervé Denis, President of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Haiti, we learn of the organization's priorities and challenges in this time of reconstruction.

What are the main reasons for businesses to join the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry?

Joining the Chamber of Commerce is a way for business people that have a common interest to get defended by the Chamber and take advantage of all the benefits the Chamber has to offer. We try to help our members the best we can by providing them different services. Its goal is to open to businesses in Haiti, but outside of Haiti as well.

What are the main goals that the Chamber of Commerce is working toward right now?

I can name for you a few that I put as priorities during my mandate. One of them is integrating more and more the informal into the formal. Because we need to have more people paying taxes, we need to have a platform where more people is part of the chamber. Obviously, those people need to fulfill some requirements, like be registered, have all the legal papers, and so on.

The second priority is the participation of all the chambers in the country. The Chamber of Commerce is the only private organization that is a national organization. We have a chamber in each department of the country, so we are 10 chambers, and I am the president of the board of the 10 chambers. At the same time, those chambers need assistance to work at the higher level so we have to reinforce the structure to make them good enough, to help in the development of the country, and the region of the country. They should be pioneers in the region.

The third priority is professional training. We have created the Chamber of Trade and Handicrafts of Haiti (La Chambre des Métiers et de l'Artisanat d'Haïti ) to be able to have more professional workers. The Chamber of Trade and Handicrafts of Haiti will help train people and certify them. This will lead us to have better employees, better professionals.

The fourth one is the integration of the youth into business. We signed an agreement with the Junior Chamber of Commerce. This is a well known international body. We have a branch in Haiti, and we signed an agreement with them because we think that the development of the country should also work with the youth in the country. Sixty percent of the population is made of young people under 25. This is a good opportunity for Haiti.

We have a project with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to make it fair of innovation, to help young people build their own business, and we can give them start-up funds to help them do that.

The fifth priority is trying to integrate more and more people with handicap into the business world. We signed an agreement with the Ministry of Public Health and Population to publicize the idea that more and more people with disabilities can get into the business community. We have to consider that, especially since the earthquake we've had a lot of people injured.

Also at the Chamber we are working on a program of social housing. We want people with low and medium income, the workers, to be able to have access to mortgages to buy homes. I am very proud to say that we are working with the Salvation Army in that program. We have a local bank that is interested to give them a fixed rate for 10 years. I think this program is working well. I hope a lot of people can get access to properties through that program.

How does the Chamber encourage business people to integrate into the formal sectors?

Why people should get "formal" while they are doing well being "informal"? There are a lot of tools that we are using for that. We have to give them services to make it attractive for them to join a formal structure. For example, a lot of merchants want to travel to other countries, but they sometimes require a visa. When they need a visa, if they don't have legal papers, they are in trouble. By telling them to join the chamber we can help them. Sometimes they need help in some programs. We can provide those services. For example, to teach them how to prepare a business plan, or the accounting book. These are services we provide to make them become more and more formal in their business operations and it's working.

Why do you think some businesses choose to operate illegally with the risks involved versus legalizing their activities?

You said the word: It is "illegal". Any time you have an audit, the government has the opportunity to even seize or condemn you. Illegality is not acceptable. The day we have a strong and controlled fiscal system, I think this will be the end of the illegalities in the business sector. This is the way to go, legalizing the business.

How would you describe the business environment in Haiti right now?

Since the new government took power, I think things are much better. We have more public-private dialogue that is more open. Myself, I am right now in Florida participating in the caravan of investment along with the Center for Facilitation of Investment (CFI). We work closely together, and we have been to a lot of seminars and professional tours. There are a lot of activities made by the government to attract people. I think the business environment is very good. Now we have to work on the reforms, on the structure, and on the institutions to work faster and faster. But there are good opportunities now, there are a lot of investments going on in Haiti. We would like things to go faster, but it's good. It's positive.

What are the latest trends in terms of investments in Haiti?

There is a new government that is more open for business; there are more investments. We are doing major investments in the North East, in the garment and assembly industries that is going to create jobs and benefit over 100,000 people. Because of the low cost, a lot of business people will come do the production in Haiti and export to the US. For example, free of custom duties mainly in the garment industry.

There are more investments in tourism. There are four big hotel chains that are coming to invest in Haiti. We are going to launch a Best Western soon; there will be Occidental Group; there is Marriott Hotel that wants to do something; and there are some negotiations with Hilton to do something.

We are deeply concerned about foreign investments in Haiti. We need investments both from foreign people and the Diaspora.

Many business people say that registering a business in Haiti is not an easy procedure. How does the Chamber of Commerce discuss the registration procedures with the Haitian government?

This is one item the government is focusing on, to try to reduce the number of days it takes people to register a company. The new Ministry of Commerce and Industry said his goal is to reduce the number of days from 120 to 10 days. I think they are working pretty well in that field.

One of the side effects of the unfortunate 2010 earthquake was a broad promotion of Haiti. Did that kind of visibility increase the international interest to invest in Haiti?

International companies are driven by their own interests. They come because we attract them. There is good promotion of the country, and there is no charity in that kind of business. They come because they feel there's an opportunity of doing business in Haiti, and this is in their right because there are great opportunities of doing business in Haiti, despite what people are saying.