US apparel brands and retailers were among hundreds of potential investors who took part in a conference last week to explore new business opportunities in Haiti - where plans for a $2m fund to help kick-start the country's garment sector were also unveiled.

Identified as one of the key sectors with strong potential to generate jobs, garment manufacturing was one of the areas examined at the meeting, which was organised by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Port-au-Prince.

A $150,000 grant to examine the viability of an industrial park model for the garment industry was also announced.

Garments currently bring the country $130m in net exports, with around 25 garment factories exporting primarily to the United States and employing more than 24,000 workers, mostly women.

But there is thought to be potential to increase this five-fold with the HOPE II Act, which provides Haitian apparel exports duty-free access to the US market.

However, to fully leverage the trade benefits of the legislation, Haiti needs to attract foreign investors and expand industrial space.

"For too long Haiti has been seen as a land of missed opportunities," said IDB president Luis Alberto Moreno. "I believe Haiti is now ready and able to attract private investments."

Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis also told visitors: "Haiti is open for business."

With IDB assistance, the Haitian government is investing heavily to improve the country's business environment.

It is upgrading its road network to reduce travel time between its main cities, as well as to increase the reliability of electricity services. The government has also cut the time to start a new business by more than half.

Even so, Haiti remains the poorest country in the Americas, with an estimated 60% of its workforce unemployed and living on less than two dollars a day.