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Daily News - 20 April 1998

Latin America takes the lead in continental trade integration
President Leonel Fernández signed along with 33 leaders of the Americas the action plan to create the world's largest free trade zone stretching from Alaska to Patagonia by 2005 and uniting 800 million people and economies worth $10 trillion. The Free Trade Area of the Americas would be more than double the size of the 15-nation European Union - the EU's total population is 370 million.
Leaders from 34 American nations also agreed in Chile to broaden the regional fight against drugs and to attack poverty.
The leaders of the Americas, with the exception of the uninvited Cuba, drafted a plan to improve judiciary and human rights, fight drug trafficking and combat the poverty that plagues Latin America despite years of strong economic growth and low inflation. Officials said international lending agencies will spend $40 billion on reducing poverty, which affects 40 percent of Latin Americans, over the next three years. This is nearly double the amount spent since 1995.
The final Declaration of Santiago said, ``We believe that economic integration, investment and free trade are key factors for raising standards of living, improving working conditions and better protecting the environment.''
"Overcoming poverty continues to be the greatest challenge confronted by our hemisphere. We are conscious that the positive growth shown in the Americas in past years has yet to resolve the problems of inequity and social exclusion.''
 
Forging ahead for a free Latin American & Caribbean free trade agreement
The Declaration of Santiago commits countries to establish the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) by no later than 2005.
Latin America has gotten a head's start on the idea for continental free trade that was first launched by the U.S. Government in 1990 and promoted at the First Summit of the Americas in 1994.
The United States has stalled in expanding the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) beyond its current partners Canada and Mexico. Chile was supposed to be become the fourth NAFTA nation at this summit.
Chilean Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza praised Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien for forging free trade and investment accords with it and other nations in the region. ``On the basis of this type of policy, prime minister Chretien has been taking a leadership role when compared to others,'' Insulza said, obviously referring to the United States.
Latin American states have picked up the free trade baton from the U.S. Government given that the U.S. Congress has opposed granting the President the rights to negotiate. Today, Latin American countries may forge ahead with a free trade agreement without the United States, the largest trading partner of the Americas. Already, Latin Americans have signed initiatives to link Central American and Andean nations to the increasingly powerful Mercosur customs union comprising Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Next year Mercosur will start trade talks with the European Union.
The four-nation Mercosur South American trade bloc, grouping Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, has a 204 million population and a combined economy of more than $1.0 trillion.
The Andean trade minister deal with Mercosur establishes a framework for negotiations to create a free trade zone by Jan. 1, 2000. The agreement replaces older bilateral accords between the Andean and Mercosur countries.
While the United States has stalled in expanding NAFTA, Mercosur has moved aggressively to add partner after partner. Mercosur already has free trade deals with Chile and Bolivia and is involved in tough negotiations with Mexico.
Mercosur signed a framework free trade agreement with the Central American Common Market, whose members are Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, in Santiago on Sunday. The Dominican Republic integrates with this agreement through its free trade agreement with Central America signed in Santo Domingo on 16 April 1998.
President Fernando Enrique Cardoso of Brazil will visit the Dominican Republic this year when significant advances on trade negotiations on behalf of the Dominican Republic and Mercosur are expected to be made.
 
Fast track needed
President Clinton needs to persuade Congress to grant him the special "fast track" authority he needs to ensure trade deals cannot be amended. Congress denied him fast track last year after organized labor and environmentalists, on whom Democrats rely heavily for financial and political support, lobbied strongly against it.
Back in 1994, it was felt that it would have been Latin American countries which would individually seek admission to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Three and a half years after, the U.S. Presidency has failed to achieve fast track in Congress and thus Latin American governments will not negotiate with the U.S. Government regardless that the US$7 trillion US economy continues to be the largest trading partner and largest investor of the region.
In an interview with Latin American newspapers published Thursday, Clinton said he was still committed to guaranteeing "fast track" legislation. "I trust Congress will have the sense to authorize me to knock down trade barriers, open up markets and create more jobs," said Clinton.
Fast track would enable Congress to vote for or against a finished
agreement, but not allow it to make amendments that could force the
re negotiation of parts of the deal.
 
Cuba to integrate with the Americas
In other interesting developments, Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza of Chile said on Saturday that it will study soon the chance of signing a trade accord with Cuba, the only nation not invited to the second Summit of the Americas. During the Summit, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he planned to visit Cuba soon to meet President Fidel Castro this year.
Moreover, President Leonel Fernández said that President Fidel Castro is invited to the Dominican Republic to attend together with Rene Preval of Haiti and the Caricom Community nations a Caribbean Summit. During the Summit, the Dominican Republic is expected to sign a free trade agreement with the English speaking Caribbean.
Cuba has not been invited to take part in the negotiations, but given the tardiness in the U.S. trade negotiations, it is possible it may have achieved free trade status with the Americas prior to the U.S. joining the bloc.

More money for education
During the Summit, a three-year, $6 billion program of World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) loans aimed at expanding primary education to all children in the region and secondary education to 75 percent by 2010 was publicized.
An estimated 175 million Latin Americans, or 40 percent of the population, earn less than $2 a day and fall within the World Bank definition of poor.
The IADB said this was not new money but a shuffling of priorities to pump more money into schooling.
According to the World Bank, 86 percent of children in Latin America and the Caribbean attend primary school but only 36 percent attend secondary school.
While industrialized countries spend an average of $4,300 per year per student, Latin America spends only $250.
 
What's next
As a follow-up to the Santiago summit meeting, nine working groups will discuss market access, investment, services, government procurement, dispute settlement, agriculture, property rights, subsidies, anti-dumping and countervailing duties and competition policy.
 
1998
April 20, 1998-Oct. 31, 1999 - Canada to continue to chair the FTAA process.

1999
May 1, 1999-Feb 28, 2001 - Miami to host negotiating group meetings.
Nov 1, 1999-April 20, 2001 - Argentina to chair the FTAA process.
 
2001
March 1, 2001-Feb 28, 2003 - Panama City to host negotiating group meetings.
May 1, 2001-Oct 31, 2002 - Ecuador to chair the FTAA process
 
2002
Nov 1, 2002-to FTAA signing - United States and Brazil to co-chair the FTAA process.
 
2003
March 1, 2003-to FTAA signing - Mexico City to host negotiating group meetings.
 
2005
Signing of the free trade agreement of the Americas.

To re-elect or not to re-elect
It couldn't have come in handier for President Leonel Fernández. An Argentine journalist covering the presidential summit in Santiago de Chile, interested in obtaining the opinion of the Dominican statesman on re-election (President Menem seeks to reform the Argentinean Constitution to allow re-election), asked President Fernández to comment on re-election in Latin America. President Fernández has avoided the topic, a touchy one as the constitutional reform of 1996 prohibited presidential re-election in the Dominican Republic, but it is apparent he would like to be re-elected, too. His answer to the Argentinean journalist made the front page headlines in Santo Domingo over the weekend. President Fernández said that in these days of strengthened democracies in the Americas it is the people themselves who should determine if a president has done a good job by voting for his re-election or for an opposition candidate. Fernández said that there is a trend to reform Constitutions in Latin America to permit re-election. Presidents Carlos Menem of Argentina, Alberto Fujimori of Peru, Fernando Enrique Cardoso of Brazil and Panama Ernesto Pérez Balladares seek to reform the Constitutions in their countries to permit re-election.
"In my country indefinite re-election existed, but an irregular situation that arose in 1996, brought about an amendment of the Constitution radically prohibiting re-election," explained Fernández.
He said that re-election is not on the government's agenda. But he reiterated that "presidential re-election is not decided by the elites; only the people can decide."
Political opponent, José Francisco Peña Gómez, who returned to Santo Domingo on Sunday 19, after being away for medical treatment and respite since 2 April, said that it is likely the Constitution will be changed to admit presidential re-election after the May congressional and municipal elections. But he said his party, the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD) would oppose the amendment on grounds of principal.
Another political leader, former President Joaquín Balaguer, whose record number of re-elections (five) will be hard to beat, said he will always favor of re-election. He said that it is the Dominican people who should decide if President Leonel Fernández should be re-elected.

President Fernández's active foreign agenda
President Leonel Fernández will travel to Haiti in June to meet with President Rene Preval. This year he also will host the visits of the presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Cuba and Caribbean Community nations. In Chile, President Fernández met with Bill Clinton and expressed his concern that free zones have not received textile parity with Mexico, thus are affected by the Mexican competitive advance. Mexican textile production is not subject to quotas or U.S. customs tariffs. President Fernández confirmed that the presidents of Cuba and Haiti will be special guests at the Caribbean Community (Caricom) summit scheduled for August in Santo Domingo.

Choosing the judges in San Juan de la Maguana
Only 120 lawyers showed up for the public evaluations that were held to choose the judges for the San Juan de la Maguana jurisdiction. The Supreme Court in full traveled to the southwestern province for the questioning of the possible judges. Five of the working judges did not show up for questioning, and thus were disqualified.

Listín Diario survey says PRD leads by 3 points
A Listín Diario survey, carried out by a Spanish poll group, Sigma Dos, between 30 March and 3 April, revealed the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD) would obtain the most votes, 43.4%, in the next congressional elections, followed by the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD), which obtained 40.2% in the survey. 1,244 men and women, older than 18 years all throughout the nation participated in the poll. The Partido Reformista Social Cristiano (PRSC) received 13.5% of the intent to vote. Dr. Jose Francisco Peña Gómez of the PRD was the politician with the highest rating 6.23 on a scale of 1-10, among the four principal leaders. Leonel Fernández followed with a rating of 5.67, Joaquin Balaguer was next with 5.16 and Juan Bosch received 4.27. The Listín Diario is the leading Dominican newspaper.

Nedoca refrigerators make a comeback
Distribuidora Corripio, importer of Samsung and Whirlpool electrical appliances, announced it was launching Nedoca refrigerators. The Nedoca brand was equal to good quality and its refrigerators were known to be still working after 15 years. Corripio announced it will be marketing 16, 12 and 12 foot Nedoca refrigerators specially adapted for Dominican hardship conditions, such as multiple power outages.

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