President Hipolito Mejia pressed the interests of the Dominican Republic during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce luncheon. He brought up the consequences of continued impoverishment and the burgeoning drug trade in Haiti.


He implored the United States to go from words to actions in the case of Haiti. He spoke of the heavy burden of the droves of impoverished Haitians crossing the border for their lives and the effects of the transshipment of drugs to the Dominican Republic on their way to U.S. territory. He said that despite the presence of the Dominican military at the border, the shipments had not slowed. Dramatizing the case further, Mejia said, ?Time is running out to help Haiti and it is probable that aid to that country may only begin once the international community sees a hat flying away, only to notice that under the hat is the head.? 
He asked the United States to grant equal trade conditions to the Dominican Republic. ?We need to receive the same opportunities as others to participate and compete in free trade,? he said, urging the United States not to discriminate against the Dominican Republic. 
The United States is aiming to launch free-trade negotiations with Central American countries at the start of next year. Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Regina Vargo has reiterated that the United States and Central American countries aim to complete the FTA negotiations by the end of 2003. 
The Dominican Republic countered with a request for a bilateral FTA, but this is not yet on the trade talks agenda of the United States. 
Otto Juan Reich, assistant secretary of state, was present at the event. Also in attendance were legislators who support the Dominican Republic?s petition to receive the same concessions as the signing of a FTA with Central America would bring. These are Charles Rangel, Jose Serrano, Ileana Ros, Lincoln Diaz Ballar, Xavier Becerra and Bob Martinez, Benjamin Gilman, Benjamin Cardin, Eliot Engel, Robert Menendez, and Donna Christensen.