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U.S. legislation seeks to boost Haiti's recovery

(For full coverage of the Haiti quake, click on [nHAITI])

WASHINGTON, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Two senior U.S. senators on Thursday introduced legislation that seeks to write off Haiti’s foreign debt, increase trade and create an infrastructure fund to help the quake-hit country rebuild quicker.

Chris Dodd, a Democrat who is chairman of the Senate banking committee, and Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, said the legislation explores ways to boost economic activity by adjusting U.S.-Haiti trade agreements.

Lugar said he hoped the legislation would also encourage the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral institutions to write off Haiti’s existing debts and any additional debt built up in the aftermath of the earthquake.

He said he hoped Haiti would also benefit from profits of already announced IMF gold sales, part of which will be used to provide low-cost loans to the world’s poorest countries.

The IMF and World Bank wrote off $1.2 billion of Haiti’s debt in July last year. The country’s largest creditor, the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), said it was working with donors to figure out ways to write off an additional $441 million of Haiti’s IADB debt.

The Dodd-Lugar bill also calls for an infrastructure fund for Haiti that would invest in rebuilding roads, water, sanitation and power grids.

Additionally, it said aid to the government should be provided through grant handouts rather than loans that would add to the country’s debt burden.

“The United States and the international community have already contributed tremendously to short-term relief efforts in Haiti, but it’s critical that we commit to Haiti’s long-term recovery as well,” Dodd said in a statement.

He said the earthquake was an opportunity to rebuild better and make the country, which has long depended on aid, self-sufficient.

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12 killed as many as 200,000 people. While international rescue crews sift through rubble in the capital Port-au-Prince, there are parallel efforts going on to figure out how best to rebuild the country.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Paul Simao