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Daily News - Thursday, 21 June 2007

Lula and Fernandez sign agreements
President Leonel Fernandez and his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva have signed cooperation agreements aimed at strengthening relations between their two countries, which have increased rapidly in recent months. Lula commented that Fernandez's visit consolidates the Brazil-Dominican Republic partnership. Lula stated that the DR could play an important role in helping create a free trade market between MERCOSUR and the Central American Integration System (SICA). Lula also complimented Fernandez's leadership in the DR and in the region and said that both countries are striving for sustainable development. The Brazilian statesman commended the DR its support to the Brazilian-United Nations force efforts to stabilize neighboring Haiti. Brazil is expected to build an ethanol production plant in Boca Chica, a project worth an estimated US$80 million. The DR has also agreed to buy Tucano jets from Brazil. A series of Brazilian business representatives have visited the DR in recent months to explore business opportunities.

Customs introduces new form
The Customs Department (DGA) is introducing a new form aimed at speeding up the customs process and reducing contraband, which will be accessible online. The form, which puts export/import information together in one place, will allow merchandise at Customs to be released in no more than 24 hours. The Single Customs Declaration (DUA) form will now replace the previous import and export documents that needed to be filled out at customs. DGA director Miguel Cocco explained that the forms would help speed up foreign trade, as well as helping control evasion at customs and preventing the entrance of contraband.
Miguel Cocco says that his department has seized more than 200 freight containers with merchandise that hasn't fulfilled the legal requirements for entering the country. Cocco added that the value of the confiscated goods exceeds RD$1.5 billion and added that there is a culture of not paying the required taxes. Cocco explained that part of the seized merchandise is auctioned off and the rest is then donated. His department announced a donation of a confiscated shipment of 175,000 fake polo shirts to the Attorney General's office for distribution in Dominican jails.
See www.dga.gov.do

EPA with Europe at risk
Trade negotiation expert Hugo Ramirez of Dominex alerts that bilateral trade with the European Union is at risk. The trade preferences of the DR with the European Union expire in January 2008, and exports such as tobacco products (cigars), rum, bananas and sugar will be subject to tariffs as of then, reducing the competitiveness of the country.
Ramirez reports that the outcome of the meeting of the Technical Negotiating Group on Market Access for the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) held in Trinidad 12-13 June was "a total chaos as to reaching an agreement this year."
He explained that the European Community negotiation officials stated in Trinidad that they had a mandate to foster harmonized tariff liberalization, which means that all Cariforum countries have among themselves the same or better access than the one granted to the European Union by the EPA. The position of the EU is that if regional integration is not achieved, "there will be no EPA at all."
The Europeans point to the "multilateralism clause" that is included in the draft text of the EPA. "This means, for example, that orange juice made in DR will receive the same treatment granted by Jamaica to Spain under the EPA," explains Ramirez. Dominican trade negotiators are in agreement with the European position for harmonized liberalization commitments.
The EPA would replace the Caricom-DR bilateral free trade agreement and grants better access. Caricom negotiators fear the DR produce would be more attractively priced, and could take market share away from them in Europe.
So far, the main obstacle to the finalizing of tariff liberalization talks is that Caricom countries sustain an exaggerated exclusion list, or no phase out moratorium, and may continue to do so during the Technical Working Group scheduled to take place in Barbados, 16-20 July.
Ramirez is pessimistic about what could happen regarding the critical issue of multilateralism. "It is our perception at Dominex that the decision will not take place before the summer break, and therefore it will be virtually impossible to implement EPA by 1 January 2008," he forecasts.

Environmental soap ends in apology
Looks like Environment Minister Max Puig's environmental soap opera was just that, a dragged out soap opera. The minister paid a highly anticipated visit to the Senate yesterday and to many people's surprise, the often self-righteous and aggressive minister seemed a shadow of his former self. Puig, instead of providing names and proof of his claims about legislators manipulating the protected area law to favor development, apologized to the Senate and said that in no way was he trying to offend anyone's honor. He continued by saying that he was only trying to protect the areas in question. This apology represents a 180 degree about-turn for Puig who just days ago was making public accusations, claiming that some senators, including Ruben Cruz (Ruben Toyota), were behind the plan to change the boundaries of the protected areas for personal gains. The outset of it all was that yes, the Sectorial Law on Protected Areas needed to be modified and the Ministry of Environment would be given an active role in the process.

The Brazilian airplane controversy
More details have been emerging about the government's purchase of airplanes in Brazil, announced as one of the main achievements of the President's Brazilian tour. President Leonel Fernandez took the opportunity to try out one of the planes during his visit to Brazil this week.
It now seems that the deal was sealed as early as January, according to Diario Libre. Each of the nine units costs US$9.5 million. The problem, though, does not seem to be so much the high cost as the fact that the planes may not even be any use for their stated purpose. Diario Libre points out that the airplanes are best equipped for pilot training, and are not suited to pursue drug traffickers. The authorities justify the purchase on the grounds they are needed to police Dominican airspace. The only countries that have purchased the airplanes are Brazil (99 units) and Colombia (25 units), and now the DR (9 units).
Diario Libre points out that these are the same planes as when during Hipolito Mejia's administration, the opposition (the party currently in power) and the press kicked up such a stink that the purchase was aborted. The Mejia administration went on to purchase helicopters instead.
Yesterday's Listin Diario discredited the PRD legislators and former President Hipolito Mejia from criticizing the purchase of the Brazilian planes on the grounds that when they were in government in 2003 and 2004, they took on a commercial bank loan to purchase 19 Schweizer 333 helicopters at a cost of US$72 million. The newspaper asks where those helicopters are now.
Diario Libre editor-in-chief Adriano Miguel Tejada takes it one step further and says that while the purchase of the helicopters was wrong, the people voted for Leonel Fernandez so that decisions of this kind would not be made again. "It was not so that the government would continue doing more of the same," he comments in an editorial today.
Tejada makes the point that the main objection to the purchase of the planes is in the lack of transparency and the government's failure to hold a bidding process to select the best option for protecting the country's airspace against drug traffickers. Diario Libre points out that the A37 Dragon FL manufactured by Cessna is a better option both price and purpose-wise. The Air Force also has more experience with these airplanes. Miguel Rosado, an aviation expert who is a former dean of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD), said that the Tucanos maximum speed is not enough to pursue the airplanes used by the drug traffickers, which include King Air 350, Cessna Citation, Lear Jet 35A and Hocker 700.
Clave Digital explains that the Tucanos airplanes purchased by the Dominican government lost a recent Chilean bid to purchase a fleet to fight drug trafficking. In its Thursday, 21 June edition, the newspaper comments that the US government used to donate airplanes for us to police the skies for drugs en route to the United States, anyway, and should do so now, as they donate equipment to Colombia.
Pilot Amin Canaan told Diario Libre that the country has in fact taken a step backwards with the purchase of those planes because, according to him, planes built in the 50s, 70s and 80s are better equipped for service than the Tucanos.
Yesterday's Diario Libre reported that the money for the deal had been secured by Decree 225-07 dated 19 April 2007, when President Fernandez unified the tourist airport charge at US$13.75. The breakdown of the US$13.75 fund use was: US$4.50 for the Dominican Institute of Civil Aviation (IDAC), US$7 to the Ministry of Tourism (for international promotion and infrastructure projects), US$0.50 for the specialized airport security force (CESA) and US$0.75 for the Air Force and US$1 for the airports. The money to pay the Brazilian financing for the Brazilian planes is contained in the US$0.75 per passenger allotted to the Air Force.

Dogs don't take bribes
The government has opened a dog-training center as part of its drive to combat drug trafficking. The new Canine Training Center is located in La Cumbre, Bonao, and 41 dogs are currently undergoing training there. The plan is to increase the number of dogs that can be used to locate drug traffickers. The president of the National Drug Control Department, Major General Rafael Ramirez Ferreira said that the dogs would also be used to combat terrorism and help with disaster relief operations. Ramirez said that in the last 10 months, his office has confiscated five tons of drugs, arrested 12,000 people with ties to trafficking and carried out 8,000 operations nationwide.

A fight for the beach
Is the 60-meter stretch of beach public, as stated in the laws, or not? Punta Popy in Las Terrenas, Samana may mark the difference. The centrally located beach strip in Samana province has been a public beach for years, open to tourists as well as locals. Now the property's owner, the Bermudez family, wants to restrict access to the beach. This decision has been greeted by a public outcry, based on the fact that the shoreline, as established by Law 305, is in the public domain. The local community is challenging this attempt to privatize this beach, as reported in Diario Libre.

Malecon Libre's days are numbered
City Mayor Roberto Salcedo said that once he completes the construction of children's play areas in other parts of the city, he will suspend the Malecon Libre and Cristo Libre days on city avenues. He said that 10 parks have already been completed in several urban neighborhoods. He announced that the municipality is working to restore 35 park areas across the city. Residents in the Cristo Rey area had petitioned the mayor on grounds that the avenue's closure every Sunday attracted drug addicts and drunks. The biggest park will be the Canquina Park Rotonda, between Tiradentes Ave. and Parque Zoologico Ave., as reported in Listin Diario. Salcedo said that the park would be ready later this year.

US travel sans passport authorized
The Washington Post was first to break the news that the US passport requirement for travel to the Caribbean has been postponed for at least six months. To re-enter the US, non-US residents need to present a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license or original birth certificate. Now the Homeland Security and State departments say the requirement could be made "no sooner than the summer of 2008."
Just two weeks ago, the State Department announced that travelers would be readmitted to the US with proof of having made the application. This was due to a backlog of three million passport applications. The waiver was until 30 September.

Soldier's wife causes immigration debate
The wife of missing US Army soldier, Dominican-American Alex Jimenez has some very powerful people on her side. Massachusetts Senator Dem. John Kerry said that the government shouldn't deport the young woman and said it would be a gesture of compassion if the US government were to allow her to stay. Kerry said that it seems inappropriate that the wife of a soldier who has been awarded the Purple Heart, and is now missing in action in Iraq, should be living with such a threat. Kerry has sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking him not to make a decision about Jimenez's wife, Yaderlin, until the soldier has been found. Yaderlin, who is living in Pennsylvania with Jimenez's family, entered the US illegally in 2001 and Jimenez submitted papers for her in 2004. A spokesperson for the Defense Department said that Yaderlin's case was closed in 2006 and there are no plans to reopen it. Jimenez, who is from Lawrence, Massachusetts, has been missing in Iraq since 12 May.

Sammy finally does! 600 runs
Slammin' Sammy Sosa has added to what has already been a glorious Major League career and what could be his winning ticket into the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame. Sammy, who had been in a homerun slump, hit a 1-2 pitch into centerfield of Arlington Stadium last night to give the Dominican slugger his 600th career homerun. What added to the excitement of his 600th homerun was the fact that Sosa hit it against his former team, the Chicago Cubs, with whom he hit 545 total homeruns. Sosa, who was out of baseball at this very time last year and who is in the midst of a career revival, joins an exclusive circle of baseball greats. Sammy has joined the 600 HR club of Hank Aaron (755), Barry Bonds (748), Babe Ruth (714) and Willy Mays (660). Chants of "Sam-my Sam-my!" rang through the ballpark at Arlington and Sosa was happy to give a curtain call. Sosa has been an important figure in baseball since the mid 1990s. Sosa's homerun chase with slugger Mark McGwire in 1998 is credited with bringing baseball back after a nasty strike threatened the popularity of the US national pastime. Sosa hit 66 homeruns in that same year and went on to hit 60 or more homeruns in two more seasons, the first ever player to achieve this.
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