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Daily News - Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Fernandez going to Cuba
President Leonel Fernandez is making a short visit to Cienfuegos, Cuba to take part in the PetroCaribe summit on Thursday, 20 December. President Fernandez will be accompanied by Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso and Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa, as well as minister Miguel Mejia. The heads of state of 14 other nations that are part of the Venezuelan petroleum agreement will also be in attendance. Fernandez leaves on a private flight on Thursday and will be back in the DR on Friday. The PetroCaribe program establishes a daily import level of 50,000 barrels of petroleum, credits for a large part of the import, and preferential prices.

Santiago recovery program
President Leonel Fernandez announced that the government is planning to spend RD$1.9 billion on recovery efforts in the Santiago area, which was seriously affected by Tropical Storm Olga last week. Fernandez, quoted in Diario Libre, said that RD$550 million would be used for reconstruction and cleaning roads and other affected areas. The President also announced that the government would provide land for 1,500 new homes, which will be constructed by the Santiago Solidario foundation. Agriculture Minister Salvador Jimenez said the government would also spend RD$300 million to help farmers affected by the storm.
Fernandez went on to announce the creation of a government commission to investigate the opening of the Tavera dam floodgates during Tropical Storm Olga and deliver a report within 90 days. Experts on dams and the media have warned that the mismanagement of the dam caused deaths and thousands in property losses. The members of the government commission represent the Ministry of the Armed Forces, the Weather Department, the Office for Provincial Development, the Ministry of Public Works, Congress, the Emergency Operations Center, the Aqueduct Corporation, the state UASD University and the PUCCM in Santiago. Fernandez made this announcement during a government cabinet meeting held in Santiago yesterday. During the meeting, the President met with public officials and representatives of private institutions and received reports on the damages caused by the flooding of the Yaque del Norte River.

Holiday security measures
A nationwide effort to reduce accidents and emergencies during the Christmas holidays starts Saturday. Some 35,000 people will be on duty over the holiday season, including volunteers, doctors, paramedics, police and military personnel. A total of 75 ambulances and 3 helicopters will be on call. According to Emergency Operations Center director General Juan Manuel Mendez, 1,235 emergency posts will be located along main roads and highways around the DR. Last year during the holidays, 38 people died, mainly in traffic accidents. This figure was 38% less than in 2005 when 61 people died, and officials hope to reduce this even further this year.

JCE demands more funds
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) is asking the government to reconsider their budget allocation, arguing that the funding will affect the organization of the 2008 presidential election. A document prepared by JCE judges claims that the RD$2,487,678,433 allocated is not nearly enough to meet the public's demands and execute all the projects that the JCE is undertaking, as reported in Hoy.
The political parties are behind the JCE claims for a larger budget, but Javier Cabreja of civic group Participacion Ciudadana commented that the budget is enough for organizing the election. He said the amount is similar to the sum allocated for the 2004 presidential election and the municipal and congressional elections in 2006.
The JCE argues that for the 2008 elections there would be more than 300,000 new registered voters, 13,300 electoral colleges and 250 electoral colleges abroad, making these more costly. The document claims that budget officials have failed to take a number of factors into account, namely the increase in administrative costs, investment in training and selection of personnel, new computer systems to speed up the voting process and the increase in voting by Dominicans abroad.

Deputies will modify budget
Deputies from the three major political parties agree that the newly presented 2008 budget will have to be modified to provide adequate funding for some of the larger institutions like the JCE, Supreme Court of Justice and the Ministry of Education. Party representatives, quoted in Hoy, agreed that national revenue should be distributed to the different sectors as determined by law. Alejandro Montas, a PLD deputy, is quoted in Hoy as saying that Congress would have the last word on the 2008 budget.

Government greenhouse clash
Dominican officials will ask the Spanish government to intervene on a business deal gone wrong, as reported in Hoy. The Dominican government wants the Spanish government to force Constructora Invernaderos Sanchez (COINSA) to return RD$4,85,000 that it charged the DR for the installation of 85 greenhouses that ended up never being built. The information on the business deal was provided by agronomist Eusebio Guzman, who works for the Ministry of Agriculture, which was responsible for the execution of the program that was funded by a US$69 million loan guaranteed by a Spanish government export agency. Guzman said that COINSA was contracted to install 200 greenhouses and only installed 115 and the government says that the company should refund US$360,000, plus an extra US$125,000 for equipment not installed. Guzman said that in 2005 COINSA erected 115 greenhouses but left abruptly without completing the project, citing a lack of materials as a reason for leaving. A dispute soon arose as the government asked COINSA to build the remaining greenhouses. Instead the Spanish company decided to leave.

Plan Renove case update
The Court of Appeals of Santo Domingo has confirmed the Plan Renove judgment in the case, which involves alleged embezzlement of RD$1.8 billion from the state. The court nevertheless, released the accused whom had been sentenced from the accusation of fraud against the state. Court of Appeals judges Miriam German Brito, Katia Miguelina Jimenez Martinez and Julio Cesar Cano Alfau rejected a plea to revoke the sentences of prison terms of 6 months to 10 years against Antonio Marte (Conatra), Blas Peralta (Fenatrado), Fabio Ruiz, former president of Plan Renove; Gervasio de la Rosa, Milciades Amaro and Pedro Franco Badia. Also Francisco Antonio Perez, Antonio Reynoso, Freddy William Mendez and Alfredo Pulinario Linares (Cambita). Judge Esther Agelan Casasnova issued the first judgment. Antonio Marte said they would take the case back to the Supreme Court of Justice. Interviewed on the Huchi & Nuria afternoon talk show, he said that he had been unfairly tried and that true justice meant that those responsible for the purchase of the vehicles should be tried. Plan Renove provided millions for transport unions to replace their vehicles. The government took on multi-million foreign debt to favor the transporters.

DR-India relations doing well
Dominican exports to India have increased by 134% during the last year while Indian exports to the DR increased by 234% during that same period. The DR is exporting rum, metals, cacao and tobacco, and is importing more pharmaceuticals from India. India's economy is currently the fourth largest in the world with a total population of 1.1 billion people, making it an attractive market for exporters. Dominican ambassador in New Delhi Hans Dannenberg and Honorary General Consul Fernando Gonzalez Nicolas both agreed that India is a potentially important trading partner due to the increase in bilateral commerce. Dannenberg said that with the opening of the Dominican embassy in India, diplomatic and commercial ties are being strengthened.

EPA is good news for DR
The Dominican Republic will benefit from aspects of regional preference that were introduced in the European Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Caricom and the Dominican Republic completed on 16 December 2007, in time for the 1 January 2008 implementation date. According to Ivan Ogando at the Ministry of Foreign Relations, the EPA will also facilitate the export of Dominican products to Caricom countries, far beyond what the FTA with Caricom had accomplished. The new agreement replaces the Cotonou Agreement that expires at the end of this year.
Ambassador Richard Bernal, chief negotiator for the Caribbean, described the EPA as historic in terms of content and precedent.
"It will promote and deepen the economic ties between the two longest running integration processes in the world. It will enhance our trade in goods because the European Union is providing duty-free, quota-free access and we are liberalizing access to our market," he told a media conference on Sunday.
Interestingly, the agreement includes a provision that gives citizens of the Caribbean access to Europe's entertainment services market, for instance. "This is a very, very difficult concession for Europe. It allows musical performers and artistes to move into Europe to present their talent and to seize business opportunities. This is a novelty that was very difficult to achieve," said Deputy Director General for Trade of the EU Commission, Karl Falkenberg, who signed the document for the EU, told CANANews. The Caribbean Regional Negotiations Machinery office says that while the culmination of this negotiation process has come later than previously scheduled, CARIFORUM countries, by completing the EPA before the end of the year, have ensured that their product exports to the EU will not have to face Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) treatment or face Most Favored Nation (MFN) duties in 2008. As of 1 January 2008, with a temporary exception for rice and sugar, all CARIFORUM goods will be entitled to duty-free and quota-free access to the European Union. Importantly, CARIFORUM is the first group within the ACP to clinch a comprehensive agreement that covers not just goods but services, investment, and trade related issues such as innovation and intellectual property.
The major elements of the agreement concluded between the European Community and Cariforum countries are as follows:
1. Cariforum liberalizing 86.9% with 82.7% within the first 15 years. The agreement will result in the liberalization of 92% of Cariforum-EC trade;
2. A general moratorium of three years on all tariff lines except motor vehicles and parts and gasoline that will benefit from a 10-year grace period;
3. Other duties and charges are to be maintained during the first seven years and then phased out in years 8, 9 and 10.
4. In addition to the SP quotas, a transitional TRQ of 60,000 tonnes split evenly between CARIFORUM SP members and the Dominican Republic. In addition, a joint commitment to ensure that shortfalls of any CARIFORUM SP member will be reallocated to another CARIFORUM SP member;
5. Award of MFN treatment to major trading partner defined as countries garnering 1% and 1.5% of world merchandise exports and services.
6. In services, CARIFORUM LDCs and MDCs have committed to 65 and 75% respective sectorial coverage with a standstill clause and provisions for future liberalization. BAH and HAI will submit their respective liberalization schedules in six months;
7. CARIFORUM CSS in entertainment services will enjoy access without any restrictions in all EU Member States with the exception of Austria and Germany;
8. Joint Declarations on Development Cooperation, Bananas, Sugar Allocation and Traditional Agricultural Products; The JD on Development Cooperation includes a commitment to channel EPA support through the CARICOM Development Fund.
9. Regional preference to be awarded one, two and five years in the case of CARIFORUM MDCs, LDCs and Haiti, respectively.
10. The Trade Partnership for Sustainable Development (Development Chapter) includes support for infrastructure while the preamble of the Agreement states that full account should be taken of the CARICOM Development Vision.
The next step is agreement at the EU Council meeting of December 20 for the insertion of 15 CARIFORUM States in the EC Regulation that allows for the unilateral conferral of the EC market access offer from 1 January 2008.
For more information, see the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery site at www.crnm.org

Phasing out potassium bromate
The use of potassium bromate in bread will be reduced by 15% in February 2008 and gradually phased out by February 2009. The information was provided by the president of the Foundation for Consumer Rights, (FUNDECOM), Altagracia Paulino, who said that by 2008 the DR will be free from the use of the substance in bread and other foods that contain the additive. Paulino added that in Brazil all bakeries have stopped using the additive and reminded consumers that potassium bromate is a carcinogenic substance.

US visas more expensive
As of 1 January 2008, the cost of non-immigrant visas to the United States will increase from US$100 to US$131. The increase in fees will cover the costs of new security systems and increased quality in the visa process. Anyone who has purchased the visa application form and their visa interview is before the 1st of January 2008 will not need to pay the difference in fees. If a person has purchased the application and their visa interview is scheduled after the 1st of January, they will have to pay the US$31 difference.

Villanueva and Horford doing well
Dominican power forward Al Horford had his strongest showing of the year after scoring a career high 16 points with 7 rebounds in 28 minutes of play. In other action, Dominican power forward Charlie Villanueva scored 13 points and had 9 rebounds in 23 minutes of play for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Baseball updates
Needing a victory to stay in the playoff chase, Licey took advantage of the opportunity and beat their long-time rivals the Aguilas 12-2. Ronnie Belliard hit a homerun while Timo Perez and Jose Bautista drove in two runs each. In other baseball action, Escogido beat up on the Azucareros 3-1 behind a strong showing from pitcher Victor Santos. Santos pitched five strong innings for Escogido. And finally, the Gigantes beat the Estrellas 6-3 and with the win qualified for the post-season.
Current Standings
Team Win Lost Percent Games Behind
Gigantes* 26 15 .634 --
Licey** 25 17 .595 1.5
Aguilas 21 21 .500 5.5
Estrellas 19 24 .442 8.0
Azucareros 18 25 .418 9.0
Escogido 18 25 .418 9.0
* - Classified for the Round Robin
** - Magic number is 1
Tonight's games:
Aguilas v Licey - Estadio Quisqueya, Santo Domingo, 7:30pm
Azucareros v Gigantes - Estadio Julian Javier, San Francisco de Macoris, 7:30pm
Escogido v Estrellas - Tetelo Vargas, San Pedro de Macoris, 8pm
 
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