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Daily News - Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Penn Governor Rendell visits
President Leonel Fernandez and Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell have agreed to explore the possibility of exchanges and cooperation in the areas of agriculture, education, energy, trade and investment. The agreement seeks to make the most of the benefits of DR-CAFTA and will begin immediately with the arrival of a delegation from Pennsylvania in June. Rendell, after meeting with Fernandez at the Presidential Palace, said that the opportunity is valuable and timely because both sides can benefit. Rendell commented that Pennsylvania is home to a growing Dominican community.
Dominican ambassador to the US, Flavio Dario Espinal announced after the meeting that a Pennsylvania trade mission will visit in June to explore and prepare recommendations. Ambassador Espinal will be the coordinator of the Pennsylvania-DR task force. Attending the meeting were US Ambassador Hans Hertell, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Dennis Wolf, DR Minister of Agriculture Salvador (Chio) Jimenez, among others.

DR and foreign investment
Hoy is reporting that the DR is the #1 recipient of direct foreign investment in the Caribbean and Central America and that DR-CAFTA could consolidate that position. These figures come from the Ministry of Economy, Planning, and Development, which says that between 1996-2000 and 2000-2005, the DR surpassed Trinidad and Costa Rica as the highest recipient of DFI. The report points out that for every US$2 entering Central America, US$1 enters the DR and the DR receives one of every three dollars that enter the Caribbean. Between 2000 and 2005 the DR averaged US$916 million in DFI. According to the report, the implementation of DR-CAFTA this year makes the DR an even more attractive place to invest.

DR-CAFTA's here - but prices keep rising
Listin Diario writes that although DR-CAFTA has come into effect, the price of many goods continue to rise, to the surprise of many. Listin writes that with the exception of just a few products, most prices have increased. Chicken, rice, potatoes, onions, peppers and powdered milk have declined in price. Prices for some imported tires and home appliances also went down. Altagracia Paulino, head of the Consumer Rights Foundation (Fundecom) had warned that DR-CAFTA would bring a wider variety of products for consumers to choose from, but not price cuts. She said that since the importers are the same as ever, prices will remain high. She advocated for a true opening of the market. There is hope that the sellers market would revert to a buyers market in the short term. Eddy Martinez of the Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD) has announced that major US chains like Wal-Mart and Home Depot are seriously eyeing the Dominican market. Sources also indicate that Swedish furniture giant IKEA is building a mega-store designed to serve Central America and the Caribbean at the former site of the UNPHU campus on Santo Domingo's JF Kennedy Avenue.

Salary debate continues
The business sector and the workers unions are inches away from an agreement. Diario Libre writes that both sides have agreed in principle to a 15% increase in the minimum wage, but are still stuck on the proposed increases for other salary brackets. One proposal on the table is for a 5% increase for people who make up to RD$24,000, but the workers unions want a 5% and 10% increase for the other salary brackets. The other stalemate is on the issue of back-payment. While the business sector says that any increase would be paid as of 1 April, the workers unions say it should be retroactive to 1 January. Maribel Gasso, head of the Dominican Employers Confederation (Compardom) quoted in Diario Libre, said that an agreement could be reached by Thursday, when both sides are scheduled to meet. Hoy newspaper, however, is reporting that not all the unions are accepting the proposals. Hoy writes that the Autonomous Union Confederation (CASC) has agreed in principle to the deal, but that the Union Unity Confederation (CNUS) is calling the proposal "ridiculous". Union leader Pepe Abreu says that a 5% increase is not enough for workers who earn up to RD$30,000.

Traffic fines used for prison remodeling
Income from the new traffic fines, which range from RD$530 to RD$883, will go to a fund that will be used to cover the cost of new model jails. This plan was revealed during a press conference by Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) head Jose Sigfredo Fadul and Attorney General Radhames Jimenez Pena. The fund will be created through Law 12-07.

UASD and drivers sign agreement
According to Hoy newspaper, UASD students will not have to pay the new bus fares as long as the university authorities and transport unions manage to pressurize the government into subsidizing student fares. Hoy explains that UASD Dean Roberto Reyna and transport union leader Juan Hubieres signed a cooperation agreement that would require the government to subsidize student bus fares. Hubieres says that the government has spent money on subsidies for energy and other items in the past, so he doesn't see why it can't subsidize student fares, which he considers vital for the country's development. Hubieres said that he would wait a month to see what the government proposes and if nothing comes up he will meet with students to decide the next step.

Energy distributors doing better
Hoy writes that the power distribution companies have increased their payment collections and have managed to reduce commercial losses by 34.8% this year. In a report to the State-Run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) the distributors point to the Recuperation Index (CRI) that went from 51.3% in 2005 to 576.8% in 2007, for a 6.5% increase. EdeNorte and EdeSur have continued to show most progress, while EdeEste has remained almost the same.

Salcedo defends project
Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo is defending the construction of a heliport on the Malecon seafront avenue by saying that the area had been used to commit "immoral acts". The heliport would be a way of cleaning up the area. Salcedo referred to the concerns voiced by the Panamanian ambassador about alleged goings on in the area and says that he has kept in touch with the ambassador on the subject. The proposed site for the heliport, Plaza Omar Torrijos, is named after a former president of Panama. Salcedo also said that the Herrera airport closure last year had left the city without a central place for helicopters to land. Critics of the heliport are against using municipal funds for the construction, as well as environmentalists who oppose using protected park ground for the facility.

Latin American politics workshop
Those interested in the changes that are happening in Latin American politics, are welcome to attend a free workshop today and tomorrow at the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (Funglode). "Political Trends in Latin America Today, Great Leaders and Great Transformations" will be presented by Political Science Professor Ronald M. Schneider of Queens College (CUNY) from 6 pm to 10 pm at the Funglode auditorium on both days.
The workshop is open to the public by reservation. For more information call (809) 685-9966 or email [email protected].

Alex is unstoppable
Alex Rodriguez is playing in his own world and the rest of Major League Baseball is watching. The Dominican slugger belted two homeruns and had three RBI in a loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Rodriguez also tied Albert Pujols with the most homeruns in the month of April with 14. Rodriguez is batting .400 and needs to two RBI to tie the record for most RBI in the month of April.

Book fair launched
Last night President Leonel Fernandez, First Lady Margarita Cedeno and her Colombian counterpart Lina Maria Mercedes Moreno de Uribe led the inauguration of the 10th Annual Santo Domingo International Book Fair. At the opening event the President cut the ceremonial ribbon and a fireworks show lit up the Santo Domingo sky. The fair will be open from 9am to 10pm daily until 6 May and 2,457 activities, 107 presentations, 117 workshops, 16 panels, 74 discussions and 1,156 exhibitions are on the program. This year's Fair also includes exhibits from thirty-one countries.
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