The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the same island of Hispaniola. They also share common historical experiences, including colonial origin, American occupation, and former autocratic regimes that have recently transitioned to young democracies.
However, despite important historical and cultural similarities, the difference in their development progress has been astonishing over the past 50 years. The Dominican Republic and Haiti had about the same level of per capita GDP in 1960; nowadays, the Dominican Republic has a GDP per capita level five times larger than that of Haiti.
Haiti has been held back by greater political and macroeconomic instability, along with lower investment in infrastructure and human capital, and environmental deterioration.
While a sense of their common heritage and destiny has occasionally prevailed, bilateral relationships and dialogue have not always been fluid between both countries due to political differences surrounding issues such as migration.
A chance for a better relationship
However, in the aftermath of the January 12, 2010 dramatic earthquake in Haiti, the Dominican Republic’s rapid response in sending aid and serving as the logistic hub for international assistance has opened the chance for an improved relationship between the two countries.
Taking advantage of this window of opportunity, a team of World Bank experts working on both sides of the island has put together a report that analyses trade, migration and reconstruction topics from a bilateral perspective.
Thanks to the report Haiti, Dominican Republic: more than the sum of its parts, we know now that Dominican exports to Haiti are close to their potential, and both countries would be benefiting from a successful reconstruction in Haiti that could raise that potential level.
On the migration side, overall, migration seems to positively contribute to both countries, as remittances sent to Haiti from the Dominican Republic are especially pro-poor, and the host country is employing young workforce in economic sectors where there is ample demand for it.
The myths of migration
Additionally, some pessimistic myths surrounding migration and trade in the island are questioned by the empirical findings: there is not conclusive evidence that Haitian immigrants depress the incomes of unskilled Dominican natives or trade is not confined to the border area and informal.
The report has been launched on June 4th and 5th, in front of an audience integrated by government officials from both countries, experts in bilateral relationships, international donors, heads of entrepreneurs associations, civil society members and students.
The need coordinate efforts in order to remove common barriers to development on the island has been widely acknowledged on both societies.
It is thus intended to constitute a first building block for bilateral institutional relationships and common policy dialogue in the island; because Haiti and the Dominican Republic can be much more than just the sum of the two sides of an island.