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Daily News - Thursday, 22 March 2007

Turning the DR into an exporter nation
President Leonel Fernandez has launched a new national program aimed at preparing the country for the challenges of the next 15 years. At an event held at the Hotel Renaissance Jaragua yesterday, he said that the implementation of the National Competitiveness Plan could make the difference between DR-CAFTA being a national catastrophe or a national opportunity. He said the great advantage of DR-CAFTA over the former Caribbean Basin Initiative is centered on the fact that DR-CAFTA modifies the concept of rules of origin. From now on, inputs can come from countries other than the US, as long as 80% of the product is manufactured in the DR.
The challenge now is to attract investments from Asia and South America to export to the US, said the President. He stressed that the DR now needs to take advantage of the global linkages in the production chain, thus becoming part of this global network, making the most of its proximity to the United States.
"This is a great opportunity for the Dominican Republic's transformation into the gateway to the United States," he said.
The President highlighted the symbolic significance of DR-CAFTA entering into effect on 1 March followed by the National Competitiveness Plan 20 days later. "We are witnessing a change in paradigm, and our great challenge is to become an exporting nation," he announced to an audience of the nation's leading businesspeople. He said that the country needed to diversify its markets, because 85% of current exports are to the US. Fernandez stressed that his government seeks to maintain the present high growth levels, but at the same time achieve the increase in jobs and reduction in poverty that will bring about integrated human development.
President Fernandez announced that his vision is for free zone industries to converge with national manufacturers in general, and that local goods may be able to compete with foreign imports in the domestic market.
At the event, President Fernandez announced that a new legal framework would be sent to Congress, including the Law of Competitiveness for Industry & Innovation and the creation of ProIndustria, the Center for Development and Industrial Competitiveness. Both seek to implement policies for stimulating innovation and competitiveness in industry, aimed at increasing the value added in our exports.
President Fernandez also announced a plan to implement a program to help businesses access the RD$36 billion in pension funds. Likewise, he highlighted the impact of the infrastructure concessions law on Dominican development, which would allow for public-private partnerships to build infrastructure works nationwide.
Innovation is high on the President's agenda, and he announced that three large centers for innovation development had been installed - UASD, PUCMM with Rochester Institute of Technology and at the Las Americas Institute of Technology (Stevens Institute of Technology).
Furthermore, he said that efforts were under way for the country to liaise with the Florida High Tech Corridor in the development of joint projects.
He also announced the strengthening of the National Competitiveness Council, with US$25 million allotted of an expected US$100 million fund from the Inter-American Development Bank.
For a summary of the plan, see http://dr1.com/news/2007/032207_PNCS.pdf

Investors trust the DR
Direct foreign investment in the Dominican Republic increased by 15.7% in 2006 and in addition, according to Hoy, during the last few months, investors have displayed an interest in instruments for investment provided by the Central Bank. This reflects a trust in the country's economic stability and in the profitability of Central Bank certificates. This type of investment also reflects the development and strengthening of the Dominican economy after the 2003-4 economic crisis when interest rates were as high as 58.45% and there was decreased confidence in the market.

Almeyda asks for help
Interior and Police Minister Franklin Almeyda, speaking at the Ministerial Conference against Terrorism and Organized Crime currently being held in Santo Domingo, is asking the United Nations and the Organization of American States for assistance in developing a legal framework for member nations aimed at fighting terrorism and international drug trafficking. Officials from the UN, OAS, the US and regional countries attended the conference that ends today.

No wages deal in sight
Labor union representatives say that talks with the business sector are off until they change their proposal. The vice president of the National Federation of Union Unity (CNUS) Rafael (Pepe) Abreu added that there was still time to come to an agreement if the business sector changes its offer. The dispute between the business sector and the unions has so far resulted in stalemate, despite modified offers from both sides. Abreu said that the unions would accept gradual wage increases.
The workers' unions will meet today to discuss their plan of action. A march from Avenue Abraham Lincoln to the Torre Empresarial building is being considered as well as a general workers' strike. Although the business sector's last offer was somewhat higher than previous offers, the unions described it as "miserable and insulting."
The proposal is for pay increases between 10% and 15% for minimum wage earners, with the greater increase going to the lowest earners on the minimum wage scale, or workers earning RD$3,900 per month, and the 10% increase going to workers at the higher end of the minimum wage scale, who earn up to RD$6,400 per month.
Unions are demanding a 25% increase for all workers earning up to RD$30,000 a month.

Macarrulla calls for privatization
National Business Council (CONEP) head Lisandro Macarrulla is proposing that a private company, with a framework of competence, clear rules and laws, should take on responsibility for providing the country's electricity. Macarrulla said that as long as the government is involved in providing energy the public would never get quality service. Macarrulla made his comments during an American Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting. The CONEP leader added that his organization supported any policy aimed at eliminating fraud and pointed out that spending US$400 million in energy subsidies should increase awareness levels in a country that has so many needs.

AES International deposits funds
The AES Corporation has deposited US$6 million (RD$200 million) into the World Fargo Bank in New York and now it's just a matter of time before the Dominican government withdraws the funds. Diario Libre quotes Environment Minister Max Puig who says that the funds have been in the bank account since last week. The funds deposited by AES are part of an out-of-court settlement reached between AES and the Dominican government. AES Corporation was on trial for illegally dumping more than 50,000 tons of rock ash, also known as fly ash, in Samana and Montecristi provinces. As part of the agreement the rock ash material must be disposed of within the first 120 days after the money is deposited into the bank account. The money will also be used to pay court and legal fees.

Samana project suspended
The Ministry of the Environment has ordered the suspension of the "Vista Mare" project until the company, JJ S.A., fulfills the necessary legal requirements. Environment Minister Max Puig made the announcement yesterday before the Chamber of Deputy's Environment Committee that is looking into the removal of 3,000 acres of sand from the coast at Rio San Juan for the artificial beach in Puerto Plata. Deputy Demetrio Antonio Vicente (PRD-Samana) says that the extraction of the sand and the Vista Mare project are both against the law. During his appearance, Puig said he didn't know whether Tourism Minster Felix Jimenez owned the Samana project. He says that the Ministry of Environment is treating JJ S.A like any other company and that no prior investigation into the owners of JJ S.A. had been carried out.

AI calls discrimination "deeply rooted"
Amnesty International (AI) classifies the treatment of Haitians living in the DR as "deep-rooted racial discrimination" and adds that the country is responsible for many human rights violations. The international human rights organization's "Life in transit," report was presented as part of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and reveals practices like deportations of Haitians without any judicial supervision and the denial of birth certificates to millions of children born in the country to Haitians "with irregular situations" as part of the problems that Haitians face in the DR. AI representatives Gerardo Ducas and James Burkey criticized the Dominican authorities' denial that discrimination against Haitians existed, and said that the government hasn't taken the proper steps to rectify the problem. AI says that they asked to meet with the Dominican authorities to present them their report but weren't able to. The pair did meet with Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis who took notes on the report but refrained from commenting.

France's responsibility in Haiti
Hoy newspaper's editorial today criticizes the alliance of Amnesty International and the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delance, as an irresponsible way of passing on the Haitian problem. "France, if perhaps Delance has forgotten, enslaved Haiti in the most cruel manner. For a change, the Dominican Republic has been since then where Haitians come to reduce the penuries that the French left in that country. They come to work in farming, construction and street sales and send their savings home," writes the editorialist. The editorial also points out that the accusation comes shortly after President of Haiti Rene Preval denied the Dominican government was violating the rights of Haitians.
"The French community knows that France has much responsibility for the calamity in Haiti, but refuses to accept that past and looks the other way, as do other economic powers.
"And Amnisty International is not concerned with the situation of Haitian jails nor whether human rights are respected in Haiti, and is even less capable of requesting that France honor its historic responsibility in the luck of Haiti," reads the editorial.

Mother turns activist
Sandra Josefina Acta has spent three years waiting in vain for justice for her murdered son, and went all the way to the Presidential Palace yesterday to present her case. Sandra Josefina Acta requested a meeting with President Leonel Fernandez so he could hear her case and to ask him to order to arrest of the man who killed her son. Diario Libre writes that almost three years ago Domingo Antonio Jaime del Pozo caused Johan Enrique Pou Acta's death in a car accident. Del Pozo was sent to jail but has been free since 18 January 2006 and Sandra Josefina Acta says that the police have done nothing. The mother asked why police Chief Bernardo Santana Paez was quick to prosecute some cases and slow to prosecute others and added that she hopes that the President doesn't leave the case as is because she feels she has no more doors to knock on.

US Embassy moving?
Listin Diario writes that the US Embassy in Santo Domingo, located on the corner of Cesar Nicolas Penson and Leopoldo Navarro streets, could be moving due to security issues at its current location. Listin quotes Ambassador Hans H. Hertell as saying that the embassy and its offices could move to a place with increased security. The ambassador says that the embassy doesn't fulfill current safety and security requirements. Listin explains that the US diplomatic mission in the DR has discussed the idea of moving from its current location for more than 10 years, but no move has ever been made official. The embassy has been at its current location for 70 years.

Getting ready for Easter Week
Semana Santa, or Holy Week is almost here and the Ministry of Public Health is getting ready. Beginning on 4 April and ending 8 April, the Ministry will have 60,000 ambulances available for the public and is preparing an emergency plan for the peak week of domestic vacation travel. Juan Rodriguez, director of Emergencies and Disasters at the Public Health Ministry said that the staff on duty during Easter week will be qualified to handle different types of accident situations and will be using a system for facilitating communications with hospitals.

Colonial Zone getting a makeover
For the last 15 days the Colonial Zone has been receiving a makeover as workers continue to clean up the area. Listin Diario writes that the beggars commonly seen around the historic city center have been cleared out and palm trees have been planted around of some of the monuments and sites. Many buildings have been painted and the trash in the area is being removed. Also, seats have been placed at the Maria Toledo Park and a water fountain is being fixed. The biggest headache for Tourist Police at the moment is the shoeshine boys who are considered a nuisance for tourists walking around the historic city center.
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