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Robert B. Zoellick Presser in the Dominican Repub.

Press Availability in the Dominican Republic

Robert B. Zoellick, Deputy Secretary of State
Presidential Palace
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
June 4, 2006

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: First I want to thank the Minister for his very generous introduction. I'm very delighted to be back in the Dominican Republic. I have very warm feelings towards the country. As the Minister mentioned, I was very proud to be involved with the launching and completion of our free trade agreement. And I was very delighted to have an opportunity to meet again with President Fernandez.

I first met the President when he was in opposition during the administration of President Mejia. And I was very impressed at that time that as we were exploring the free trade agreement, that President Fernandez saw the big picture strategic interest of the Dominican Republic. And then after we completed the agreement and needed to win the support of our Congress, the President was kind enough to come to the United States and help us make the case for the agreement, which we then passed. And that's just an example of the very close ties between our two countries, ties of which we are very proud.

So today we talked about some of the steps that still need to be taken to implement the agreement so that it can come into effect, we hope very soon. Since I now am the Deputy Secretary of State and not the U.S. Trade Representative, it's the responsibility of my colleagues, but I spoke to them before I came down and I will of course report back to them.

Of course the primary reason of my visit is the fact that the Dominican Republic is hosting the Organization of American States General Assembly meeting. So I want to thank the people of the Dominican Republic for their very warm hospitality for this OAS meeting. And also for the very excellent arrangements of which we've already been able to partake of, which I know took a lot of work for many people. So we began that session with an informal discussion among the ministers; we have an event this evening, and we will then continue with the formal events tomorrow.

So I'm very delighted that President Fernandez could take the time to meet with me this evening. And in addition to talking about our free trade agreement, I was interested in learning more about the successful growth of the Dominican economy and getting his advice on some regional issues because he's offered us a lot of wisdom. He's a very good friend of my country, and I'm very proud that I consider him a friend personally.

I have an event to go to but I have time for a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Jonathan Katz with AP. Will the United States be launching any formal complaints against Venezuela specifically alleging that Venezuela has interfered in the elections going on today in Peru?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: What is interesting, what I heard today is affirmation of the reports you've been getting from Latin America over the past weeks and months. And what I mean specifically is that it is encouraging that the democracies of Latin America that feel that Venezuela has been infringing on their own democratic process are speaking up on their own. And this is not only Peru, but it was Nicaragua and others.

There is a procedure in the OAS which Peru requested for discussion in the general council. And I think this is part of a larger development. You might have seen that Venezuela recently suggested a cut in OPEC oil production, which would have only increased oil prices for many of the poorer people in developing countries in Latin America. From what I've heard so far, that wasn't so popular in the region. And it's also encouraging that the OPEC countries themselves refused the idea.

So part of what this OAS session is about is that the OAS and the Inter-American Development Bank working together can help create the foundation for democracy and development in this region so the countries in Latin America can stick up for themselves. So my main message has been how we want to try to support the OAS and the IDB and other countries as they take the difficult steps of building the institutions of democracy.

And as my comments today and my comments tomorrow will emphasize, we realize that this also requires broadening the base of development. Because as you open up the political process as has happened throughout much of Latin America, you're bringing in groups of people, indigenous, impoverished people that frankly were shut out for centuries. So we need some economic policies that also give them some chance for social development and opportunity and hope. And so that's what connects with some of the things that I was just talking about related to free trade agreements but also the Millennium Challenge Account, our other AID programs and also some perhaps innovations from the IDB.

QUESTION (translation) DIARIO LIBRE: You just said that you spoke to the President about the steps that are remaining to finish everything that needs to be done for implementation of the agreement. I would like to know what steps were identified and what did you talk about the need of extending the deadline for entry into force?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: As for your second question, on the entry into force, we have worked with all the countries that are part of the CAFTA-DR free trade agreement on their own timing to try to meet the customized needs of implementation.

And it's partly worth emphasizing because issues we're working out with the Dominican Republic are similar to issues we've had to work out with other countries. It's a natural part of the implementation process. And they tend to be somewhat technical issues about passing legislation or implementing regulations that will implement the free trade agreement obligations.

And for example they include some issues with dealing with the government procurement rules, and that means their obligations in the agreement that governments will give equal opportunity to U.S. or Dominican companies to be able to sell to their respective governments. There are some issues related to dealer protection laws, which are some ways that restrain business dealings and this was true throughout Central America as well. And there are a couple of intellectual property topics. And there may be some other more minor subjects in agriculture and a couple of other topics, but there's a rather limited set that we need to work through.

So as someone who was interested in trying to give birth to this free trade agreement, I'm obviously impatient to get it done, but it's not surprising it takes a little time. But what the President and I talked about with the Minister and the Ambassadors is the big picture. My main interest in implementing the free trade agreement is to help strengthen the Dominican Republic's ability to sell to the United States because I want to help expand opportunity and prosperity in the Dominican Republic. Obviously we want to sell goods in the Dominican Republic as well, but we're a little bigger economy so I want to try and make sure we get this going to help sustain and strengthen the President's development policies.

I'm doing a little press thing tomorrow so I can take some more questions tomorrow, but I have to go on to the event tonight. Gracias.

Released on June 5, 2006


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