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Daily News - 26 November 1998

Latorre: separate trade pact with Trinidad unlikely
Asked about reports that Trinidad and Tobago has informally suggested negotiating a bilateral trade pact with the Dominican Republic, Minister of Foreign Relations Eduardo Latorre said such a possibility was very unlikely. The DR plans to stick with the multilateral approach agreed to with the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) in a framework agreement signed this past August. Trinidad and Tobago is the largest market within CARICOM, and has recently indicated its eagerness to increase trade with the DR. Talks with CARICOM were suspended by the DR earlier this month when the trade bloc proposed some 500 products for the "negative list" which will be exempted from the trade agreementís liberalization rules. By contrast, the DR only proposed ten items for the negative list, including sugar, rice, beer, cigarettes, cement and five metal products produced by METALDOM. The two sides agreed that CARICOM would review its proposed list and the DR would analyze the trade impact of the CARICOM proposal. Dr. Latorre affirmed yesterday that the two sides will resume negotiations in January at an unspecified date.

CDE will guarantee electricity back everywhere by holidays
The Administrator of the Dominican Electricity Corporation (CDE), Radhamés Segura, declared yesterday that CDE will not tolerate any delays in reconnecting all Dominican communities to the electrical grid by the holidays. He said that President Leonel Fernández has made CDE responsible to see that all Dominicans affected by Hurricane Georges have their electricity back before the holidays, and that CDE will do whatever it takes to meet that mandate. Three private firms have been hired and CDE personnel from Santiago brought in to add personnel to CDE teams repairing electrical lines in the eastern DR. Segura reported that all connections have been reestablished in the South, and the new Vicente Noble Substation has been put into operation. A majority of circuits in La Romana and the east already have been repaired, he claimed.

Dominican inflation rate one of the lowest in Latin America
The Central Bank reported yesterday that in the first three quarters of 1998, the Dominican Republic's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew 6.8%, in line with the Bank's projection of a 7% growth rate for the entire year. According to the Bank, the sectors experiencing the most growth so far in 1998 are: communications, 19%; manufacturing, 17.1%; water and electricity, 17%; commerce, 14%; tourism, 7.1%. The Bank said that for the year ending in September, Dominican inflation was just 2.91%, one of the lowest inflation rates in Latin America.

Senate passes "Buy Dominican" bill
The Senate yesterday passed a bill intended to keep the Executive Branch from using funds from the national budget to buy foreign goods and services when Dominican alternatives exist. The bill, sponsored by Senate President Ramón Albuquerque and Senators Antonio del Villar and Andrés Bautista García, is roughly similar to a "Buy American" law in existence in the U.S. for decades. The Executive Branch would be prohibited from buying imported goods or services, either directly or via budgetary support for public or private entities, when alternative goods and services exist that have an "aggregate national content" of 30% or more. The Executive Branch is required to use only Dominican agricultural and fishery products intended for direct consumption where they exist, as well as any goods made from primary materials sourced in the DR. In other procurement for schools, social assistance programs, the National Police and the Armed Forces, the government must seek the highest possible national content. In certain situations the Executive Branch can derogate from these rules, but only when they first petition the Senate for authorization to purchase the foreign good or service. In such cases the Senate must decide on the authorization request within fifteen working days.

More debate about tariff/tax reform proposals
The Association of Wine and Liquor Agents yesterday condemned proposals by the Fernández government to raise the Selective Consumption Tax (ISC) as part of an effort to offset expected losses in government revenue due to tariff cuts. Last week the Government sent to Congress proposals to reform the DR's tariff system and to compensate for the projected resulting revenue loss by raising the Transfer Tax on Industrial Goods and Services (ITBIS), which is paid on a wide range of goods and services, and raising the ISC, which affects beer, wine, liquor and tobacco products. The Association said that the government's plan would raise the average price of wine and liquor by 12-13% in 1999, and in the process seriously hurt sales. The group also suggested that the tax hike would simply give incentive to contraband operations.
Separately the President of Cervecería Nacional Dominicana (the company best know for its Presidente beer), Rafael Menicucci, expressed yesterday his company's opposition to the proposal to increase the ISC on alcoholic beverages. While his company supported tariff reform, he wondered aloud why one sector (alcoholic beverages) must shoulder so much of the bill (via the ISC) for a reform that will benefit a wide range of Dominican industry. He said that the tobacco and alcoholic beverage industries feel that the domestic tax burden for the tariff reforms should be more evenly distributed among sectors of production, and he proposed broadening the base of ITBIS as one way to do so.
The President of the Senate, Ramón Albuquerque, told Hoy and El Nacional newspapers yesterday that he believes that raising ITBIS is not necessary in order to offset the revenue loss from tariff cuts. He suggested that most of the revenues could be recovered by better enforcement (making certain everyone who owes pays and pay exactly what they owe) and by expanding the base of the ITBIS. Many important sectors are currently excluded from application of ITBIS, he pointed out. He gave the example of publicity, a sector involving some RD$7.5 billion annually in the DR. Apply ITBIS to this sector alone and the government could raise RD$800 million.

A "Christmas Without Potholes" in Santo Domingo?
The Minister of Public Works, Diandino Peña, and the Mayor of the National District (DN), Juan de Dios ("Johnny") Ventura, announced yesterday a joint program to fix all Santo Domingo's potholes by year-end. Dubbed "Christmas Without Potholes," the cooperative project between the national and DN governments will divide the city into six distinct sectors to tackle the task, and dispatch six teams to repave or patch the streets with asphalt. The two officials said 6,500 cubic meters of hot asphalt will be poured to fill potholes, covering a total space of 128,000 square meters.

Poll: current government as good or better than predecessors
In today's release from the November 7-12 Hoy-Hamilton & Staff poll of 1,000 Dominicans, most appear to feel that the present government is the same or better than past ones. Asked "Comparing the government of Dr. Leonel Fernández with that of Dr. Joaquín Balaguer, would you say that the country is better, worse, or the same?", 37% said "ìbetter" and 30% said it was the same, while 32% qualified it as "worse." Asked "Would you say that the present government is more corrupt, less corrupt or equal to past governments?", 46% replied "less corrupt," 29% said "the same," 18% said "more corrupt," and 8% said they had no opinion.

Sugar workers picket National Palace
Workers from ten sugar refineries picketed the National Palace yesterday morning, creating havoc with traffic on Mexico Avenue. The workers are demanding payment of RD$300 million in unpaid salaries and arrears due to them from the State Sugar Council (CEA) since January.

Italian businessman to sponsor four San Cristóbal schools
Italian businessman Augusto Reyna has announced that he will finance the construction of four schools in San Cristóbal Province and guarantee a school breakfast program at each for a period of ten years. Reyna is the president of the liquor firm Amaretto Di Saronno and the president of the Italian-Dominican Chamber of Commerce. He also served for ten years as the DR's honorary consul in Milan, Italy. Reyna told reporters of Hoy and El Nacional newspapers that he had decided to help build and sponsor a school or schools in San Cristóbal after the tragedy which befell the province's community of Manomatuey during Hurricane Georges. Many members of that community took refuge in the local school and were trapped by flood waters caused by the rains accompanying the hurricane; 37 people died as a result. Reyna told reporters that he had originally thought to rebuild the same school destroyed in that tragedy, but that the Shell oil company had already announced its intention to do so. Education Minister Ligia Melo has publicly commended Mr. Reyna.

ASIEX plans detailed inventory of foreign investment in 1999
The Association of Foreign Firms (ASIEX) has announced that during 1999 it will conduct the first detailed inventory in decades of all foreign investment in the Dominican Republic. ASIEX says that a comprehensive study with reliable data is long overdue, and will assist Dominican government agencies in planning strategies, policies and programs, and in promoting the country to foreign investors. ASIEX plans to work with the Central Bank, the Office for the Promotion of Foreign Investment (OPI-RD), the Dominican Association of Free Zones (ADOZONA) and the National Association of Hotels and Restaurants (ASONAHORES) in compiling and producing the report.

Balaguer voices his support for the DR's PanAm Games bid
When the rumor swept Santo Domingo last week that the Dominican Republic might abandon its bid to host the 2003 Pan American Games, several prominent PRD politicians, including three of its presidential precandidates, voiced their support for hosting the Games. It was revealed yesterday that ex-President and Reformista Party (PRSC) head Dr. Joaquín Balaguer has added his vocal support to the bid. Dr. Balaguer wrote directly to the President of the Pan American Sports Organization (ODEPA), Mario Vásquez Raña (Mexico), to stress that both the PRSC and he personally back the DR's bid to host the Games.

National Lottery to award 30,000 college scholarships
The Administrator of the National Lottery, Taina Gautreau de Windt, announced yesterday that her organization will be awarding 30,000 scholarships for the children of lottery ticket vendors to attend university. She announced the new program at the launch of the Fifth National Census of Lottery Ticket Vendors, which collects statistics on the quality of life and work of the vendors. The census results will be used to design benefits for the vendors. The scholarship program will put into operation once the revenues start from the new electronic lottery game due to commence shortly.

XII National Games (Romana '99) to be postponed a year
It is not yet official, but the news daily Listin Diario says that "irrefutably credible" sources tell it that the Twelfth National Games (Romana '99), scheduled to be held next year in La Romana, will be delayed until the year 2000 because of damage to sports facilities caused by Hurricane Georges. The National Games, last held in Mao in 1997, are the major Olympic-style competition for Dominican athletes. Listin says that a report on the state of the region's sports facilities prepared for Sports Minister Juan Marichal suggested that the games be postponed to February or March 2000. The 13-page report has been delivered by Marichal to President Fernández, who is expected to issue soon an official announcement about the Games. Listin's source said that work would have to begin immediately on preparing the facilities if even the February-March 2000 target is to be met. The damages to sports facilities in the eastern Dominican Republic total RD$46 million, says the report prepared by the Sports Ministry. Nearly every facility in La Romana was affected, including the La Romana sports complex (characterized as nearly destroyed, with damages estimated at RD$10 million), and the Leoncio Mercedes Coliseum and Francisco Micheli Stadium, both characterized as seriously affected.
Asked by rival news daily Hoy about the Listin story, Marichal merely responded, "I don't know where they got the news" that La Romana '99 would be postponed, since he has not been informed of any presidential decision to that effect.

Shell car rally to be held in Santo Domingo
The local subsidiary of the oil company Shell will sponsor a championship car rally in the Dominican Republic December 4-6. Co-sponsored by the Quisqueya Auto Club and Dominican Racing Federation, the rally will be held in two parts and last approximately eleven hours. Both parts of the rally will start in the parking lot of the San Diego touristic port terminal on the Avenida del Puerto in Santo Domingo. Drivers will compete in four categories: A, B, C and tourist. Winners in each category will receive a trophy.

Eagles increase their lead to six
The seemingly unstoppable Cibao Eagles defeated the Escogido Lions 5-3 yesterday, increasing their lead in the Winter Professional Baseball Tournament to six games over the second-place Licey Tigers.
Tonight at 8:00 pm Licey will play Escogido in a match rescheduled due to rain.

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