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Daily News - Friday, 21 September 2007

DR1 breaks for long weekend
The DR1 daily news digest will not be updated on Monday, 24 September on the occasion of the Mercedes Day celebration. The day honors the Virgin of Mercedes, the patron saint of the Dominican Republic. A compilation of headline-making news for the long weekend will be published on Tuesday. Breaking news that can't wait till Tuesday may appear in the Forums, which are open 24/7 for contributions by readers.
See www.dr1.com/forums

President Leonel Fernandez, who is on a US tour, announced the hosting in Santo Domingo of a DR-CAFTA Summit with the participation of the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, signatories of the agreement, to evaluate first year results of the free trade agreement. The meeting would be held at the "start of the year."
As reported on the Presidency website, President Fernandez advanced that during his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations next week he would call for superpowers to create the conditions for growth in small economies in order to curb migration.

DR ready for agreement
Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso says that the DR is ready to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union. So far, 12 rounds of negotiations have been held, and the agreement could be signed by 30 October and could be implemented as soon as 1 January 2008. Today, Cariforum will be meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad to continue discussions on an EPA. There has been concern that an EPA will not be signed by December, when the current preferential trade regime under the Cotonou Agreement runs out, but reports indicate that both sides are working to meet the deadline. If an EPA isn't signed, Dominican tax exports would have to compete under the Generalized System of Preferences.

Foreign Ministry lowers taxes
Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso has announced that effective 1 October consular services fees at Dominican consulates will be lower, in some cases reduced by 50%. Passports, which cost US$140, will now cost US$60. Tourist visas, which cost US$60, will now cost US$40. Legalizations will also be reduced but prices will depend on which document is being legalized. Morales Troncoso said that price reductions are part of Law 173-07 on Collection Efficiency that seeks to improve the services provided to Dominicans abroad.

NY MTA could help SD Metro
President Leonel Fernandez said the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is willing to help train Dominican personnel who will work on the Santo Domingo Metro. He said that a cooperation and assistance agreement could be signed. Fernandez added that the proposed cooperation between the MTA and the SD Metro came about following an initiative from an MTA executive who is of Dominican origin. Fernandez says that the MTA's experience in the areas of order, cleanliness, behavior and security will be beneficial for Dominicans. Hoy writes that the meeting between the unnamed MTA executive and Fernandez took place when Fernandez inaugurated the Industry and Commerce office in New York.

Expatriates urged to propel development
The executive director of the National Competitiveness Council, Andres van der Horst Alvarez has challenged Dominicans living abroad to encourage trade and development in their home countries, as expatriates have done for Ireland, Korea, Chile, Taiwan and Singapore.
Van der Horst Alvarez was speaking during a panel discussion on DR-CAFTA, Trade and Investment, and Exports and Investments that took place in New York on the occasion of Dominican Week, organized by the Russin Vecchi & Heredia Bonetti law firm.
Van der Horst challenged Dominican expatriates to promote investments in the DR. "That is essential for the country's development," he stated.
He announced that in coordination with the Presidency and the Ministry of Industry & Commerce, studies would be carried out on how to make the most of the diaspora to increase trade with the US. Industry & Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes, CEI-RD director Eddy Martinez, and Funglode advisor Esther Aristy also took part in the discussion.
The Fernandez administration and Funglode have carried out several studies on Dominicans abroad, their importance and how to channel their strengths to help Dominican development.

Tax threatens cigar jobs
US party politics and children's health are indirectly affecting the Dominican tobacco industry and the DR must stand by and wait for a decision to be made. US President George W. Bush has announced that he will veto the bill, if approved by Congress, which seeks to increase the tax on cigarettes from US$.39 to US$1.00, and would also increase the tax on cigars, from five cents to US$3.00. The money received from the taxing of tobacco would then be used to fund the State Children's Insurance Program (SCHIP), which is due to expire at the end of September. The bill would entitle 3.2 million low-income families to receive health care for children and would bring the number of state insured children to 10 million.
President Bush has continually rejected the hike because, according to him, it would increase the government's role in health care, financed by a huge tax increase. The President has asked lawmakers to send him a temporary extension of the program in order to give politicians time to work out their differences on the issue and added that it was foolish to pass a bill they knew he would veto, in order to claim a political victory.
The Senate's version of the bill, nevertheless, passed with enough support to be veto-proof, setting the stage for a delicate compromise between chambers when Congress returns next month.
As reported in Cigar Aficionado, the US House of Representatives has agreed to accept the Senate's version of SCHIP bill, hoping to get new legislation passed before the current provisions expire on 30 September. The House of Representatives version had put the cap at US$1, which would still mean a 2,000% tax increase on some cigars.
The hefty increase threatens to decimate cigar exports from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras, three leading cigar exporters to the US, responsible for around US$600 million in annual sales. The three countries have only recently begun to implement a free trade agreement with the US, DR-CAFTA, where they open up their borders to billions in duty free US imports.
Meanwhile, US distributors have already notified local producers to stay the inventories. The bill affects all tobacco products, but the increase is much higher for cigars.
President Leonel Fernandez, interviewed in NY, said that children in the DR would be negatively affected by the tax. Tobacco Institute (INTABACO) director Adalberto Rosa forecast that the tax on tobacco products and their derivatives could cause a 30% decrease in cigar exports. This represents a loss of US$100 million a year in financial losses and would affect families whose livelihoods depend on the production of tobacco. He says that 108,000 people would be affected. INTABACO is part of the regional assembly of the World Association of Tobacco Producers (ITGA), which is lobbying the US government to rethink the tax on tobacco products.

Dominican products benefit with DR-CAFTA
Hoy writes that Dominican beauty products are benefiting from the DR-CAFTA agreement. According to information provided by the Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD), in 2005 exports of Dominican beauty products were valued at US$2,876,275 while in 2006 exports had increased to US$3,319,502. Products like conditioners, shampoos, relaxers, highlighters, straighteners, vitamins and rinse are being exported to the Caribbean, Colombia, Venezuela and other parts of South America, Spain and a large part of the US. Hoy explains that with the implementation of DR-CAFTA, companies have had to reinvent themselves in order to meet the requirements and quality standards. Ronny Grullon, general manager of marketing at Star Products, explains that Dominican products abroad are not only accepted by Dominicans but by all consumers.

Mining continues to grow
Octavio Lopez, director of Mining at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, says that the Dominican mining sector grew by 126.7% in the first half of this year. Lopez made his comments during the Inter-Governmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development that took place in Switzerland. Lopez highlighted the strength on the sector and its contributions to the Dominican economy, and added that mineral exports made up 50% of non-traditional exports during this period.

Church urges Fernandez to speak
The debate on abortion is picking up steam once again and the Catholic Church is reaffirming its stance against abortion under any circumstances. But in this latest bout, the Dominican diocese is asking President Leonel Fernandez to voice his opinion on the matter. At the Dominican Episcopalian Conference, Monsignor Ramon Benito de la Rosa y Carpio cemented the churches stance and said that at some point or another the President will have to comment. The Church says that it is unthinkable that there are legislators and politicians who would vote against human life and would erroneously want to justify the legalization or decriminalization of abortion. The Church also says that to legalize abortion is to legalize the death penalty against defenseless people without voices. The Church is calling for the public to defend its sovereignty and not to cave in to international pressures that are championing the legalization of abortion. Bishops from the 12 Dioceses have unified to fight against the legalization of abortion and are calling on the Dominican public to do the same.
Those who advocate allowing abortion if there has been rape or the mother's health is at danger debate the Church's point of view. They point to the increasing number of abortions, at more than 100,000 a year, despite the absolute penalization of abortion at present, and say it is a state health problem, not one for religious debate. The advocates of flexibility for abortion indicate that the ban only affects the poor that cannot afford to travel abroad for an abortion.

Drug busts
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) seized a 200-kilo shipment of cocaine yesterday that was dropped from a small plane into the Bahia de Ocoa. DNCD spokesman Roberto Lebron says that the shipment was dropped from a Cessna airplane. The drugs were picked by the US Coast Guard, after receiving a tip from the DNCD, and taken to the US. Lebron said that inter-authority cooperation led to the drugs being found. No one has been arrested in connection with the case.

Names in AILA case released
Officials have informed that Captain Anderson Antonio Rojas Agramonte and Corporal Wilkinson Novas Diaz from the Marine Corps will be charged in connection with the attempted assassination plot against Major Joran Jose Baez Fernandez and Colonel Juan Francisco Tejada Genao. Diario Libre writes that Baez has detected large drug and contraband shipments over the last six months and has arrested people trying to leave the country with false documents. Baez's good work wasn't pleasing to Rojas who then contracted a civilian to kill Baez. Rojas' lawyer claims that the charges against his client are false and will file papers against Baez for defamation and damages.

UASD student still in coma
One of the two students who were hit by a bus on Wednesday at the UASD campus is still in a coma, according to Hoy. Awilda Cuevas, 19 years old, was run over by a bus on Wednesday and was immediately taken to the Dario Contreras Hospital. The young woman received severe head trauma which caused a fracture to her skull and other cerebral complications. Hospital officials are optimistic about her recovery. Joanna Garcia, the other student involved in the accident, was released from intensive care. She suffered a fractured pelvis, among other things. Reports indicate that Jeronimo de los Santo Reyes, who is in police custody, was speeding and driving recklessly, causing injury to the two students.

Dominicans make strides in NY
Diario Libre writes about six Dominicans who have been selected for judicial posts in New York City's 72nd District. The elections were held on 17 September 2007. Ruben Dario Vargas, Ricardo Urena, Marina Torres, Diogenes Perdomo and Evelyn Linares have all been selected for posts. Also elected to posts in NY were Sosa A. Jimenez, Miguel Martinez, Mayra Linares and Adriano Espaillat.
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