The US House of Representatives has approved a bill to extend duty-free benefits for some knit and woven apparel products imported into the US from Haiti in an effort to aid reconstruction in the earthquake-torn country.

The Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act passed earlier this week now heads to the Senate before it can be sent to the President.

With the presidential signature, the legislation will extend the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) and the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Engagement Act (HOPE Act) until 30 September 2020.

The CBTPA is currently set to expire on 30 September 2010, while key provisions of the HOPE legislation expire at the end of next year.

"Once this bill is passed by the Senate and signed by the President, the US apparel and textile industry will be able rebuild Haiti's apparel sector with a degree of certainty and predictability that has been lacking," said Rick Helfenbein, president of TellaS Ltd, the US division of Luen Thai.

Helfenbein, who also co-chair's the steering committee of the Haiti-AAFA Recovery and Reconstruction Team (HARRT), adds: "Our main goal is to help the assembly business and that, in turn, will help the Haitian people."

US trade groups have also welcomed the pact.

The American Apparel and Footwear Association, whose members include major US retailers and importers, described the legislation as a "positive step forward toward a long lasting economic recovery for the people of Haiti."

And the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, which represents the textile industry, notes the bill "also takes into account various sensitivities from the perspective of the US textile industry."

Under the proposed legislation, 200m square meter equivalents (SMEs) of Haitian knit and woven clothing products would qualify for US duty-free treatment regardless of the origin of the inputs. This is nearly three times the 70m SMEs that currently benefit.

The bill also extends until 30 December 2015 the value-added rule that provides duty-free treatment for apparel made in Haiti.