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Daily News - 04 May 1999

DR escapes U.S. trade sanctions this year, but next...
The flurry of Dominican government anti-piracy enforcement activity over the past few months has evidently persuaded U.S. authorities to wait another year before taking trade measures to punish the DR for its poor protection of intellectual property rights (IPR). Under a law known as Special 301, every year the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) must draw up and publish by April 30th a list of trading partners whose actions (or in some cases, inaction) regarding intellectual property (IP) are hurting U.S. trade interests. "Priority countries" are those targeted for sanctions if the countries do not agree to change damaging practices. "Priority watch list" countries are those that will be targeted next time if they do not make improvements in the intervening year. "Watch list" countries are those that have been identified as potential problems which could end up on either of the other two lists.
In a report released last Friday evening in Washington, the DR was left on the "priority watch list" because of its many IP protection problems. USTR made it clear, however, that only recent highly-publicized enforcement efforts kept it off the primary hit list, and if legislative measures are not adopted by the end of 1999, it will lose important market access benefits. The relevant passage in the report on the DR is as follows:
The piracy of computer software, video and audio tapes, and compact disc technologies, as well as TV piracy is widespread, although the Dominican Copyright Office has been more active during the past year in enforcing existing laws. The 1911 Patent Law provides for broad exclusions of subject matter from patentability, and includes onerous local working requirements. Current law is also inadequate with respect to term of protection. The Fernandez Government has submitted new intellectual property legislation that, as presently written, will contravene several TRIPS provisions, such as those pertaining to compulsory licenses. The Ministry of Health is still granting marketing approvals for products that infringe pharmaceutical patents. The Dominican Republic must bring its legal regime into conformity with TRIPS by January 1, 2000. As a major beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA) and the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), it is incumbent upon the Government of the Dominican Republic to provide adequate and effective protection for intellectual property.
In an interview published today in the news daily El Siglo, the Technical Secretary of the Presidency, Temístocles Montás announced that the Fernández Administration has been studying suggestions made by the U.S. concerning the IP sections of the Market Order Code now before Congress, and that it will soon send amendments to the bill to Congress. Priority in the amendments will be given to those areas where the DR may be violating its Uruguay Round commitments under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs) Agreement.

Poll: faithful will back whichever PRD candidate
In the latest poll conducted by the daily Listin Diario and the polling firm Sigma Dos, 92% of the party faithful said that they will back whomever emerges from the May 16 Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) convention with the nomination for president. Recently media and politics watchers have openly speculated that the squabbles and maneuvering among the five PRD pre-candidates may result in a fractious party going into the year 2000 campaign. The same poll asked this question directly ­ will the pre-candidates' campaigning affect party unity? ­ and received a resounding "No!" (82.2%).
The same poll also asked peredistas to indicate who they'd most like their favorite candidate to ally himself/herself with. Followers of ex-Agriculture Minister Hipólito Mejía chose Santo Domingo's Senator, Milagros Ortíz Bosch, as her followers did with Mejía (70.5% and 87.7%, respectively). Thus the recently announced pact between the two appears to enjoy solid support in each camp. Followers of Santiago's Senator, Rafael Abinader, also picked Ortíz Bosch, albeit with less enthusiasm (40%). Abinader's followers were the least enthusiastic about the idea of alliances. The followers of PRD leader Hatuey Decamps and ex-SD Mayor Rafael ("Fello") Suberví favored an alliance between the two, although neither with numbers over 50%.

Customs waives tariffs on Dominicans bringing gifts to Mom
Customs announced yesterday that it will waive payment of customs tariffs on Dominicans living abroad bringing gifts to their mothers in the last half of May. The measure is billed as the government's way of making this Mother's Day extra special. Mother's Day is celebrated in the DR on the last Sunday of May. As with the annual exoneration Customs grants returning Dominicans during the Christmas holidays, the value of the gifts cannot exceed a total of US$500 and those claiming the waiver must show their passport to prove that they have not visited the DR in the past six months. The period during which the waiver will be in effect is May 15-30, and it applies to the PR-SD ferry as well as airports.

Supreme Court blocks paychecks for 79 judges
Making good on a warning he emitted earlier this year, the President of the Supreme Court, Jorge Subero Isa, yesterday issued orders to withhold the paychecks of 79 judges because they have not yet submitted their legal declaration of economic interests. The declaration is required under Law 82-79 as a way to ensure transparency in the judicial system and guard against judges being assigned cases in which they might have an economic stake in the outcome. On Monday the Department of Corruption Prevention (DPC) of the Attorney-General's Office, which is responsible for managing the declarations, informed the Supreme Court that 79 judges have failed to comply with the requirement. Subero Isa ordered the Treasury to withhold the judges' paychecks until the DPC indicates that they have complied. The Law itself does not dictate such a penalty for noncompliance, but Subero Isa had made it clear earlier this year that the Supreme Court would order such measures because it was incumbent upon judges to honor the law and reassure the public that they have no hidden special interests.
The DPC says that 26 mayors (including Santo Domingo Mayor Johnny Ventura), 70 Federal Deputies, 565 municipal councilmen and 130 municipal treasurers have not complied with the same reporting obligation. The DPC has asked the Chamber of Deputies and the Dominican Municipal League (LMD) to take steps to force their members to comply.

Government not paying firms supplying school breakfast
The Education Ministry is racking up large debts with the nine firms supplying milk and juice for the much-touted school breakfast program. The debt, estimated at RD$100 million, is due to late and non-payment for supplies already provided by the companies. Last April 10th the nine suppliers gave the Ministry 15 days to pay off its arrears, or else they would stop supplying the program. The Ministry has yet to pay its debt, although in a meeting with the companies last weekend it issued more promises. Companies have yet to cut off supplies, worried about the negative publicity that might bring. However, few can afford to carry indefinitely unpaid debt that in some cases exceeds RD$10 million per company.

President officially receives 52 schools donated by Japan
In a ceremony to be held today in the Bella Colina de Manoguayabo sector of Santo Domingo, President Leonel Fernández officially will accept receipt from Japanese Ambassador Masato Akazawa 52 schools donated by that country. For each of the schools, the DR supplied the land on which they were built, access roads and streets, utility connections and logistical support. The construction and furnishing, however, was handled by Japan, with actual building work done by the Fujita Corporation to Japanese construction standards. Thirteen of the schools were built in María Trinidad Sánchez Province, 12 in La Vega, 11 in Santo Domingo, 10 in Duarte Province and six in Samaná.

Alburquerque calls for La Rosario to halt operations
The President of the Senate, Ramón Alburquerque (PRD-Monte Plata), yesterday called for the closure of the state-owned Rosario Dominicana mining firm. He said that, given that the company has been operating at a loss for some time and given the recent reports of heavy pollution of surrounding areas and rivers caused by the firm, La Rosario should simply halt operations until an international investor can be found to take over its operations. He point out that the firm currently loses about US$150 on every ounce of gold it produces.

DR faces Belize today in first Centro-Basket match
The Dominican Republic's national selection team faces off against Belize's team today at 5 pm in the first round of play in the 1999 Central American and Caribbean Basketball Tournament ("Centro-basket 1999"). The Tournament is being held in La Havana, Cuba. The DR is expected to easily defeat Belize, despite the loss of one of its starting players, Franklin Western. Western has been suspended by the Dominican Basketball Federation from participating in the national selection team for 60 days for failing to report in this past weekend as required. Tomorrow the DR plays Costa Rica at 3 pm, and then the tough Cuban team on Thursday.

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