H.E. Laura Faxas, Ambassador of the Dominican Republic, spoke to SOCIETY Magazine about the Dominican community living in Austria, COVID-19’s impact on her country’s tourism sector and the future of energy supply.
Representing the Dominican Republic as Ambassador here in Austria, how would you like to see the relations between the two countries develop, respectively, what is the current status of these ties?
We want to transform relations between Austria and the Dominican Republic, give them life and new content. We have a long-lasting diplomatic relation with Austria, established already in 1938, but during all these years, we haven’t been able to effectively deliver on the promise of exchange trade and cooperation.
Taking 2019-2020 as a reference, trade between the two countries was relatively low and is favourable to Austria. The Dominican Republic exports less than a million dollars a year to Austria, mainly cigars, rum and also sporadic exports of cocoa and fresh fruits. However, Austria exports more than 20 million dollars a year to our country in goods from the pharmaceutical industry, electrical equipment and supplies, machinery, dairy products, paper and cardboard products, among others. We would like to promote exports of Dominican products to Austria in order to change these data, and we would also like to have a more significant presence of Austrian companies in the Dominican Republic.
We want Austria to get to know the Dominican Republic, its culture, its people, its exportable offer and the wide opportunities and facilities for investment.
That is why, firstly, we want to establish a regular political dialogue between our two countries that can frame all our relations.
Our second priority is the development of trade and investment. We want to open new markets and exchanges in areas of interest for the two countries. Our target is seeking investments in renewable energy, education, waste management and hospital waste, water management and treatment, science and technology, innovation, construction, among others.
In terms of cooperation, we have great interest in opening spaces for cooperation and exchange of good practices where Austria has shown its excellence in climate change management, renewable energy, solid waste management, and hospital waste, water management, construction of social housing, innovation, education.
At the same time, we want to strengthen and encourage cooperation in tourism, which has proven to be a major contributor to the GDP of both countries.
For my part, I have a great desire to make music and cinema two important elements on the binational cultural agenda.
How do you plan to engage with the Dominican community living here in Austria?
The Dominican diaspora is at the heart of our management of our Embassy. It is, together with the promotion of trade and investment, and human rights and democracy, one of the three priority axes of the new foreign policy of President Luis Abinader, led by our Minister of Foreign Affairs Roberto Alvarez.
The Dominican Republic is a country that has built its identity through different migratory waves that have marked the richness of our cultural diversity. However, the Dominican Republic is also a country of emigration, about 10% of the Dominican population lives abroad. A fact that few people know is that, in Austria alone, more than 4.000 Dominicans reside and that the Dominican community is the second most important among the population of Latin American origin residing in Austria.
In this sense, our efforts will be aimed at achieving a greater rapprochement of the Embassy to the Dominican community living in Austria to learn more about their needs. One of our objectives will be the provision of permanent channels of communication with community leaders to organize periodic work sessions, in order to guide them on their rights and obligations in Austria and the countries of the concurrence.
Also, we want to offer Dominicans residing in this part of the world, especially young people, support to strengthen their identity, creating spaces where they can express their cultural values through the artistic diversity typical of the Dominican community.
The Dominican Republic has one of the largest GDP in the Caribbean, with one important pillar being the tourism sector. Which impact did the COVID-19 crisis have on your country’s economy?
The Latin American region has been the most affected economically, and particularly the countries of the Caribbean sub region, due to the fragility of these economies, their vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change, the high levels of openness and their strong dependence on tourism.
Certainly, the growth of the GDP of the Dominican Republic has been one of the highest in Latin America, maintaining sustained growth for more than 20 years and with tourism being an important contribution to the national economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the Dominican Republic in a very negative way. Economic indicators during the first year of the pandemic (2020) fell significantly, widening the fiscal deficit due to the reduction in income and the increase in social spending.
Despite the gloomy outlook, as of the third quarter of 2020, a slow process of economic recovery began with the formal opening of air and maritime borders and flexibility for international air traffic under the Responsible Tourism Recovery Plan, through which internationally certified health safety protocols were implemented.
Like tourism, the other sectors of the Dominican economy are on the mend. Thus, the GDP registered a growth rate of 3.1% in the first quarter of 2021, as a consequence of the reactivation of almost all economic sectors. After the 2020 recession, there are prospects for double-digit growth.
The Dominican Republic is striving to generate a quarter of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. How can this goal be achieved? Where do you/does your country see the main potential to generate “green energy” in the Dominican Republic?
The Dominican Republic gives capital importance to the electricity sector, so the issue of renewable energies is among the government’s priorities as a state policy and as a goal of the National Energy Plan, since it seeks to increase generation capacity, reduce dependence on imports of fossil fuels, promote private investment in electricity generation, mitigate the negative environmental impact generated by fossil fuels, as well as promote the competitiveness of the sector to have a diversified, sustainable and clean energy matrix.
For decades, our electricity system has been deficient not only in power generation and transmission but also in distribution, resulting very costly for both the government and users as well.
The adaptation of the institutional and regulatory framework able to attract investment capitals as well as the required technical expertise associated to the integration of different renewable energy to the interconnected system are also challenges to be addressed by the energy sector. Wind and solar energy are the most profitable options of the renewable energy matrix.
The Dominican Republic offers extraordinary investment opportunities to the private sector to invest in clean energy projects. For this reason, we have the doors open to Austrian investors interested in learning more about the benefits and incentive that our country offers, not only to investment in this sector, but in the industry, agriculture, agribusiness, tourism and other services sectors.
I strongly believe both countries can benefit greatly by establishing a close cooperation in this sector.