Dominican Republic prepares its future as 'Ireland of the Caribbean'

What do Ireland and the Dominican Republic have in common? Not as much as they will have in the future, says Eddy Martinez, the…

What do Ireland and the Dominican Republic have in common? Not as much as they will have in the future, says Eddy Martinez, the republic's secretary of state for export and investment who has his sights set on making his country the "Ireland of the Caribbean".

"That's our vision," he says. "We want to take Ireland's economic model and replicate it in our own country."

Mr Martinez was in Dublin last week as part of a 27-member Dominican delegation, which included the country's First Lady, Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez, to learn about the Irish economy. This was his second visit to Ireland, and it was during his first trip six years ago that he was so impressed with the country's economic progress that he took the message back home to his president, Leonel Fernandez.

"I told him what I'd seen and that I wanted the same for our country," he says. "My vision then became his vision and therefore the vision for our country."


While the climates of the two countries could not be more different, the nations have many similarities, according to Mr Martinez. Both countries are islands, and they both share their island with another country. They are both small states and have come from an agricultural base to focus on industry and tourism. "Both from an economic and a social point of view I have seen no other country that has so many similarities with the Dominican Republic," he says.

According to David Lovegrove, a director at IDA who visited the Dominican Republic earlier this year, the country is now in the same position as Ireland was in the early 1990s and, like Ireland then, it has "great potential" to develop its economy.

Currently a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. The main aim of the five-day trip, which comprised of meetings with Irish government ministers and members of Enterprise Ireland and the IDA, is to learn about how Ireland transformed itself from one of Europe's poorest countries in the 1980s to the world's third-largest exporter.

President Fernandez, who examined other models used in Taiwan and Singapore before choosing to adopt Ireland's model, is keen to focus on promoting the Dominican Republic as a destination for foreign investment, according to Mr Martinez.

The country, whose normal business tax rate is 25 per cent, is offering zero tax to businesses prepared to invest in one of the country's 59 business parks, where more than 185,000 people are employed. The most recent addition, the Santa Domingo Cyber Park, is modelled on Dublin's City West and is seeking to attract companies such as Hewlett Packard, Intel and Dell.

"Foreign investment is the key to economic development, and that's what we are here to see for ourselves," says Mr Martinez. The group of delegates went on a tour of City West, which is home to companies including AC Nielson, Alcatel and Pfizer, and met some of the business leaders involved in the project in the hope of taking some tips back home with them.

Still, one of the main challenges the Dominican Republic will face if it is to expand its economy and attract more investment, is the lack of a skilled workforce. Currently most children leave school aged 13. Mrs Fernandez, the president's wife, is working with various social bodies to promote educational projects to encourage young people to stay at school.

Admitting that the government has a tough task ahead, Mr Martinez says he is determined that changes will be evident by the end of President Fernandez's term. That is in three years time. One cannot help but think he has his work cut out.