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Daily News - Friday, 29 June 2007

Fernandez sends letter to Colombia
President Leonel Fernandez has sent a letter to Colombian president Alvaro Uribe condemning the murder of 11 Colombian deputies who had been captured by guerilla fighters. The letter said that the Dominican government recognizes the work being done in Colombia to try to create a stable and peaceful society. Fernandez also offered his support for Colombia and the families of the 11 deputies.

Taiwan Vice President to visit DR
The Vice President of Taiwan, Annette Lu will be arriving for an official three-day visit next Tuesday. The Vice President will also be visiting Panama, Guatemala and other Taiwanese allies in the region. Lu's visit is part of a continued effort to increase and strengthen relations between Taiwan and the DR. Lu is traveling with a 63-member delegation of high-ranking Taiwanese officials.

Anti-DR campaign surfaces again
Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso is on the defensive once again, saying that the DR is the subject of a very well-funded defamation campaign from interested sectors abroad. Morales was speaking in reaction to an incident that took place at Florida International University where the film, "The Sugar Babies" was shown. The film was rejected by Dominicans who called it a farce, dismissing it as an attempt to discredit the DR by priests Christopher Hartley and Pierre Ruquoy. Hoy writes that the Dominican Consul in Miami, Dr. Manuel Almanzar Castillo, had the microphone removed from his hands by moderator Richard Tardanico, as he was about to defend the country's image. Morales says that the fact that Almanzar was prevented from speaking is just further proof of the anti-DR campaign. He says that international organizations are trying to portray the DR as a slave nation. The issue of an anti-DR campaign surfaced when father Ruquoy and father Hartley presented another anti-DR video, "Slaves in Paradise" in France.

JCE holds forum
During a forum on the subject of "Electoral Campaigns", Central Electoral Board (JCE) head Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman said that indiscriminate use of taxpayer money for politics could be the ruin of the country's political parties. Castanos made his comments as talks of implementing changes in campaign finance rules have swirled around the JCE for weeks. Hoy writes that the PLD, PRSC and PRD have received 82% of all the money designated for political parties in the last 10 years, a total of RD$2.7 billion, according to JCE judge Jose Angel Aquino. Representatives from Mexico, Colombia and Spain are attending the forum. Castanos also said that the country's seemingly stable democracy could be in danger if the system doesn't evolve. Spanish politician Alfredo Belda said that all over the world it has been impossible to get political parties to adhere to a finance law and to fully implement finance reform for campaigns.

Metro to connect to grid
Despite initial assurances by Metro officials and engineers, the sub-director of the Office for the Reorganization of Transport (OPRET) Leonel Carrasco has announced that the Santo Domingo metro system will not have its own power system. He said that the northern part of the metro line would be powered by the Palamara substation, while Itabo-Haina would provide the energy for the southern section. Carrasco said that the metro's entry into the system would not cause problems for the public because its consumption would be minimal compared to what is produced. Carrasco did not explain why the metro would not install its own substation as planned on the Isabela River. The metro will however have a 30MW emergency power plant.

$800 million for renewable energy
The president of the National Energy Commission (CNE), Aristides Fernandez Zucco disputes that the Budget Department is allotting to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and not to his department, as established by law, funds generated by a 5% tax on petrol (Law 112-00), as reported in Diario Libre. He said that President Leonel Fernandez was notified of this anomaly, which dates back to 2001. Law 125-01 created the CNE and Law 57-07 establishes that the CNE will supervise the funds, he told the press. He told the press that if it were up to his department he would be allotting 20% to stimulate private renewable energy projects and a percentage to the Institute of Innovation in Biotechnology and Industry (IIBI).
He announced the celebration of the First International Week of Energy in January 2008.

Dominican products sold in US
The Dominican government and the agriculture industry have signed a strategic alliance with the US Supermarkets Association, to pave the way for more Dominican agricultural products to be sold to US consumers. The Association has 428 members and imports more than US$3 billion in produce annually. The agreement was signed yesterday between the Center for Exports and Investments (CEI-RD), the Dominican Agricultural Council (JAD) and the Supermarkets Association, during the 2007 Farm Produce Fair being held at the Dominican Fiesta Hotel through 30 June. The JAD also signed an agreement with the Hunts Point Farmers Market in New York. Hunts Point is the biggest produce terminal in the US with more than 600 produce buyers converging from all around the globe.
The agreement was signed within the framework provided by the DR-CAFTA agreement. Osmar Benitez, executive vice president of the JAD, said that Dominican agriculture producers are aware that production costs, the cost of money and energy, transportation and inputs need to be reduced to make their exports more competitive, as reported in Hoy.

Brits looking to import
British business representatives have shown interest in importing sugar and other products from the DR through the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union. This and other topics were discussed by Senate leader Reinaldo Pared Perez and Chamber of Deputies head Julio Cesar Valentin during their visit to the British Parliament in London. Pared Perez and Valentin will also be visiting Northern Ireland with the hopes of generating interest in the DR.

The cost of not signing with Europe
Former DR trade negotiator Hugo Ramirez Risk has calculated the cost for the DR if the Caribbean fails to sign a reciprocal trade agreement with Europe, known as the European Partnership Agreement (EPA). In rum, the DR stands to lose EUR70 to EUR100 million in development cooperation funds. The DR expects to export five million cases of rum by year 2010, primarily to Europe. All DR rum has tax and quota free access to European markets today. This would be lost if the EPA is not signed. The first World Trade Organization-compatible collective brand "Dominican rum" was issued on 25 June in Santo Domingo, a major achievement of the Dominican Association of Rum Producers (Adopron).
Tobacco exports would also suffer considerably. The DR is a world leader in cigar exports to the European Union.
The additional quotas that would be opened with the signing of EPA would be lost. The European Commission has announced as of next year regional quotas will be administered on a first come-first served basis. This is because as of January 2008 the European Union will no longer provide guaranteed prices for its producers, nor as per WTO rulings, grant trade privileges to Cariforum exporters. Ramirez Risk, though, points out that after the initial phase (Jan 2008 to Sep 2009), during which the Sugar Protocol would continue to apply, the EC will maintain prices at remunerative levels for Caribbean partners. This would be lost if there were no EPA. The EC offers Cariforum sugar-containing products full duty free/quota free treatment. This again would be lost without an EPA.
The export of bananas is one of the main obstacles keeping Caribbean countries, other than the DR, from accepting the European Commission's terms. For the Caribbean, one of the major issues is the Most Favored Nation (MFN) tariff. The EC stresses that the EPA will maintain duty free/quota free access, which is meaningful. This against the background of public information that EU was to offer MFN suppliers a 50% reduction in the tariff over a six-year period - to EUR88 per metric ton - in exchange for a "peace clause" at WTO levels. The EU promises all efforts will be made to maintain as high a level of preference for the Caribbean as is practical. If there is no EPA, the DR will lose its first rank status on bananas exports to the EU.

Much left to do
A third version of a report on educational progress in the Dominican Republic and the region, "Much Left to Do," was released by the Central American Commission for the Promotion of Education Reform in Latin America (PREAL) at the PUCCM University in Santiago yesterday. The report explains that if countries in the region keep dragging their feet on finalizing the pending issues with DR-CAFTA, they will not be able to reap the benefits of the free trade agreement. The report calls for increased investment in infrastructure and strengthening of the commercial and financial sectors, as well as citizen education. The report continues by saying that countries in the region need to implement great changes in order to overcome disadvantages and reach the levels of developed countries.

Santiago building its tramway
Feasibility studies for the Santiago tramway have led to great relief because the construction of the tramway will not result in any families having to be displaced. The tramway will be built at a cost of US$175 million and construction is scheduled to begin in August. The tramway will have 12 stations with stops every 260 meters. Top speed for the carts will be 70km/h and estimates say that 13 million people will use the system every year. Plans indicate that the tramway will begin at the Victor Espaillat Mera industrial park and will run along the Avenida Circunvalacion Sur, Las Carreras and the Duarte Highway, ending at the Cibao International Airport. The Spanish company Ferrocarriles Espanoles de Via Estrecha (FEVE) will be in charge of construction. Although the planned tramway has widespread support, 30 taxi organizations have come out against the system because they fear it will threaten their business.

Lugtmeijer goes to Depreco
During his four-hour meeting with the Corruption Prevention Department (DEPRECO), former Shell Company executive Jan Willem Frederick Lugtmejeir denied that there had been any wrongdoing on his part and distanced himself from the supposed invoice alteration scandal at the company. Lugtmeijer met with DEPRECO sub-director Otoniel Bonilla yesterday morning.

Free knees and hips
The Plaza de la Salud hospital is announcing that 40 people will be receiving free knee and hip replacements. The patients, who all come from underprivileged backgrounds, will be receiving their replacements beginning next February. The replacements cost between RD$250 million and RD$350 million, which means that normally these procedures are inaccessible to most of the population. The operations have been made possible through a partnership with Brigham and Women's Hospital, in conjunction with Harvard University. Forty US specialists, led by Dr. Thomas Thornhill, will be performing the surgical procedures. The selection process has already begun and patients must be under 80 years old to be eligible.

Horford goes third
Al Horford, the 6'10" 245-pound power forward from the University of Florida, has become the tallest Dominican ever picked in the NBA's yearly talent draft. Horford, who won two national championships at Florida, the first Dominican to ever do so, was chosen by the Atlanta Hawks with the third pick in the draft. He is the ninth Dominican ever picked in the NBA draft. His father Tito Horford became the third Dominican ever picked when he was selected in the second round of the 1988 draft. Horford's high selection in the year's draft is a testament to his talent and his work ethic, considering that this year's draft is one of the most competitive in years. Asked how he felt after being drafted, Horford said he was very proud to be chosen, and that he was proud of being Latino and Dominican. Hoy is reporting that Horford will have a three-year contract for US$3,121,000.
Though not as highly touted as Al Horford, Dominican ballplayer Sammy Mejia from DePaul University, snuck his way into the NBA through the back door after being drafted with the 57th pick in last night's draft. Mejia was selected by the Detroit Pistons. Mejia becomes the 10th Dominican basketball player to be selected in the NBA draft and this is the first time that two Dominicans get drafted in one year.
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