Cross-Border Trade and Corruption along the Haiti-Dominican Republic Border

An economic chasm separates the two countries sharing the island of Hispaniola. Until the mid-twentieth century, both had roughly the same GDP, but while the Dominican Republic (DR) has enjoyed decades of economic growth, Haiti’s economy has languished, crippled by political turmoil and natural disasters. Although both countries have roughly the same population—nearly 11 million—the DR’s economy is ten times bigger.

Largely uncontrolled cross-border trade highlights these differences, straining bilateral relations. Exports from the Dominican Republic worth hundreds of millions of dollars enter Haiti illegally each year, depriving the government
of revenues needed to create jobs and provide basic services and stifling the growth of Haiti’s own agricultural and industrial sectors. Meanwhile, Haitians—unable to find employment, education, or health care at home—cross into the DR, swelling the country’s undocumented population.

Attempts by both governments to curb these flows—by banning certain types of cross-border trade or deporting migrants —have done little but encourage corruption. Haitian customs agents—bribed or intimidated by powerful parliamentarians and businesspeople—allow importers to bring shipments across the border without proper inspections. Dominican soldiers let Haitian workers or traders cross the border only if they pay “tolls” to avoid deportation.

E ective, e cient border regulations would bene t both countries. Haiti needs Dominican products and know-how; the Dominican Republic needs Haitian workers and foreign market access. Facilitating formal trade would stimulate investment, creating jobs on both sides of the border. It would also increase the tax revenues needed as Haiti copes with declining foreign assistance.

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