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Daily News - Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Official offer to Shell
The government presented Shell oil company an offer to purchase its 50% shares in the Dominican Petroleum Refinery (REFIDOMSA). The terms of the offer have not been disclosed, though it is rumored to be worth around US$183 million. Shell representative Rafael Maradiaga said that so far the process has been very constructive. Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa is hoping for a quick purchase process. Hoy writes that the government plans to use the estimated US$149 million of its share of the profits from Shell's operations in 2006-2007 to purchase the 50%.

Pushing for hybrids
Santiago senator Francisco Dominguez Brito has submitted a bill to the Senate aimed at providing tax credits on the import of eco-friendly hybrid vehicles. Brito's bill proposes a 30% discount on the car's taxes. The vehicles would have to be certified by Customs as qualified hybrid motor vehicles. A hybrid vehicle runs on a combination of petrol and electricity, increasing efficiency and thereby reducing emissions. With fuel prices at a record high, the vehicles would provide consumers with considerable savings on gas. The discount would offset their more expensive selling price. Hybrids are more expensive because of the extra batteries and electronics involved.

Fare increase announced
The CNTU bus union, led by Ramon Perez Figuereo, has announced that its members would increase bus fares by RD$5 on urban routes and RD$20 on inter-urban routes. Ground freight costs will also increase, by RD$4,000. The fare hike will come into effect at noon on Wednesday if the government does not meet the union's demands by 10am. Perez says that the soaring fuel prices justify the increase.
Perez, quoted in Hoy, said that the CNTU would increase its fares even if other unions decide not to do so. The CNTU has 3,500 affiliated freight trucks, which makes up 95% of the nation's cargo trucks.
Meanwhile, the Juan Hubieres of Fenatrano, Manolo Ramirez of Conatra and Ricardo de los Santos of Fenatrado (the largest trucking union) say they will not increase fares for now. They have proposed that the government reduce the tax on gasoline to compensate for the price of petrol. A gallon of premium gas now costs RD$196, and RD$65 of this is taxes.

Subsidy to go if fares are raised
The Presidency's chief information officer Rafael Nunez is warning public transport car (concho) drivers that if they go ahead and raise their fares, the government will remove the fuel subsidy on their vehicles. Nunez said that it is not fair for drivers who receive a subsidy to increase their profits at the expense of their customers.

Subsidies for 3 more months
Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa says that the government will maintain food subsidies put in place shortly before the presidential election through August. He explained that another RD$1.4 billion has already been budgeted to keep down the prices of rice, eggs, chicken and milk. According to Bengoa, who is quoted in Hoy, the government has invested more than RD$1.3 billion in food subsidies so far.
El Caribe writes that in the last three months the government has paid out RD$16 billion, which critics are calling a "subsidy festival." Bengoa has denied this. In all, he says the government has spent RD$11 billion on energy, RD$3.8 billion on propane gas, and RD$1.3 billion on food subsidies.
Bengoa is currently in Washington, D.C. for meetings with representatives from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) about the world food shortage.

Natural gas not the answer
Industry and Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes is not willing to put all his eggs in one basket, saying that natural gas is not a panacea. According to Paredes, natural gas is not the most efficient alternative. It is just a short-term measure to confront the inevitable energy crisis. He says that at the moment there is an abundance of natural gas and it is still cheap. But he warned that in a few years the price of natural gas could also skyrocket, leaving the DR in the same position as it is in now. In this context, Paredes said that the government is seeking other short and medium-term alternatives aimed at reducing the country's dependency on fossil fuels.
Commenting on the propane (LPG) fuel subsidies, Paredes explained that the government is ready to narrow the focus of the LPG subsidies to domestic use and limited vehicular use. He added that the economy could not continue to sustain a large-scale LPG subsidy.

CMD back at it
Waldo Ariel Suero, president of the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) has announced that public hospital doctors would be re-launching their campaign for higher wages. He announced another 24-hour general strike at 20 eastern region public hospitals for Thursday, 29 May. Suriel said they will also take Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez to court this week for violating Law 60-97 that regulates the hiring of physicians.

Trade not balanced
The DR's Gross Domestic Product grew by 6.2% during the first quarter of the year, but the balance of trade shows imports increasing and exports dropping, as reported in Listin Diario. Reporter Esteban Delgado analyzes the most recent economic overview published by the Central Bank. Exports were down 1.5 % over the first three months of the year, including goods exported from free trade zones, which were down 0.1%. The percentages are small but when put into perspective they reveal a looming problem, with a present US$134.9 million deficit for the start of the year. Imports increased by 31.4% overall, and fuel imports were up by 49.9% from January through March. Officials are not worried about this, however, as there was a 5.6% increase in tourism, a 7.9% increase in remittances and foreign direct investment (FDI) increased by 177.6%. In the first three months of the year, FDI was at US$1.06 billion compared to US$360.1 million for the last three years combined.
Preliminary figures show a US$804 million deficit in the current account balance. By year's end, this could double last year's deficit of US$1.8 billion. The Central Bank reports gross reserves of US$2.89 billion.

EPA to force Caribbean integration
David Jessop, executive director of the Caribbean Council, says that the DR stands to gain from the provision in the European Partnership Agreement that opens inter-Caribbean trade. Once the European Partnership Agreement (EPA) is signed in July, he says Dominican business community will benefit from the stipulation that any trade preference granted by one Caricom member to all other signatories, the DR included. He explains this would accomplish the integration of the DR's economy with that of the smaller nations in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Dominicans hope the implementation of the EPA will give the country, after a short transition period, access to markets in the English-speaking Caribbean for the first time. Dominican manufacturers have long been complaining about obstacles Caricom countries have placed to completing the Caricom-DR Free Trade Agreement, to facilitate increased trade in the region. For the DR, the implementation of EPA is a way of getting around the obstacles.
Nevertheless, Jessop says that some island leaders, such as Jamaica's Prime Minister Brice Golding continue to insist on urging European counterparts to maintain the issue of differential treatment for the poorer countries of the region under the EPA, despite the treaty ruling against this asymmetry.
Regardless, Jessop writes that the EPA places the DR business community in a unique position in the Western Hemisphere to make the most of the economies of scale that arise from having a large and viable domestic market, as well as developing trade across its land border in Haiti, together with the possibility of producing goods and providing services for the world's two most wealthy markets, the US and the EU.
The Caribbean Council is a London-based international organization that assists the development of the Caribbean through the promotion of the region's interests internationally and by encouraging new and increased trade and investment with Caribbean countries.
For the complete Jessop commentary, see http://dr1.com/trade/articles/675/1/The-View-from-Europe/Page1.html

2012 already?
Not even three weeks after the 2008 presidential elections and the PRD campaign machinery is already gearing up for the 2012 elections, according to a report in Hoy. Hoy reports that the PRD has begun the search for its 2012 candidate. The party is considering Miguel Vargas Maldonado (who was defeated by President Leonel Fernandez in 2008), former President Hipolito Mejia (who was defeated by Fernandez in 2004) and current PRD president Ramon Alburquerque. While Vargas and Alburquerque have said they would seek the candidacy, Mejia has not spoken on the issue. The Dominican Constitution only allows for one consecutive re-election bid. So, neither Mejia nor the incumbent Fernandez could run in 2012 unless the constitution is reformed. President Fernandez is expected to present a bill for the reform of the Constitution in August.

46 random kilos of cocaine
Drug officials in the DR are investigating a haul of 46 kilos of cocaine found at the Punta Cana International Airport. The drugs were found in containers that were to be shipped to Canada via Air Canada. The containers appeared to be empty, but a search showed they had a secret compartment for hiding the drugs. Drug officials have launched an investigation to determine if there was any complicity by airport personnel.

Sextuplets are a year old
The DR's second set of sextuplets celebrated their first birthday in great health yesterday, and well-wishers helped cut a large cake at the Maternidad Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia where they were born, as reported in Listin Diario. The mother, Magdalena Rodriguez, calls her family, "the army." The family also commemorated the death of one of the prematurely born sextuplets. Times have been trying for the family, as they meet the challenge of supporting the five surviving babies, four girls and one boy, who consume about seven cans of milk and 330 diapers per week. The children, named Ciara, Keila, Luis Manuel, Kira, and Kiara, were born on 25 May 2007. The family gets RD$20,000 a month from the Ministry of Public Health to help with costs. They have also received donations from many businesses and individuals.

Placido Domingo at Chavon
Spanish tenor Placido Domingo will delight Dominican audiences singing Rafael Solano's "Por Amor" and Manuel Sanchez Acosta's "Paraiso Sonado" during his Friday, 20 June performance at Altos de Chavon, the 5,000-seat amphitheater in La Romana. This will be Domingo's second appearance in the Dominican Republic. On the first occasion, in 2002, he performed at the National Theater.
For the Altos de Chavon performance, Dominican singer Amaury Sanchez and 60 musicians from the Dominican and Puerto Rican national symphonies will accompany the tenor. Domingo is coming to promote his new CD, Pasion Espanola that is dedicated to Spanish 'coplas', when music and poetry focus on passionate love affairs. The songs were hugely popular in the 1940s and 1950s when Placido Domingo was growing up, and now they are back in fashion, making the Spanish pop charts.
Concert tickets are already for sale in Auto Germanica in Santo Domingo. In Santo Domingo, call 809 535-7800 or 809 535-5444.
They are also available at the Villa Owners Club/Entrance Casa de Campo, Tel 809 523-3333, Ext. 2161 or Ext. 3165/66. General admission is RD$6,000/US$175, with VIP tickets available for RD$10,000/US$300 and RD$20,000/US$590.
For more information on upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar

Tuesday sales
Plaza Lama advertises Barcelo tomatoes for RD$5.95lb, mangos for RD$6.95ea, cabbage for RD$10.95ea, red onions for RD$9.95lb, carrots for RD$4.75lb, and limes for RD$8.95lb.
Bravo has its usual 30% off on fruits and vegetables for its cardholders.
Jumbo has celery for RD$2.95lb, squash for RD$4.50lb, mangos for RD$9.95ea, cantaloupe for RD$17.95ea, passion fruit for RD$39.95/10units, pineapples for RD$18.95ea.
Carrefour advertises its usual Tuesday sales in its meat and seafood departments. Beef filet for RD$169.95lb, ground beef for RD$42.95lb, Short ribs for RD$37.95lb, fresh conch for RD$54.95lb, precooked shrimp for RD$124.95lb.
JR Furniture Center at Carr. De Mendoza 211 Tel 809 595-7777 has a furniture sale with selected items 50% off through 31 May.
Sealy Mattress Center at Plaza las Americas, Bella Vista Mall and Plaza Los Pinos (Santiago) has 30% off mattresses through 31 May.
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