The tight cultural and commercial relationship between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic is about to get even stronger in coming months as the islands work to develop joint projects in the areas of biofuel and energy production that also involve private sector participation, said Virgilio Álvarez-Bonilla, ambassador and executive director of the Joint Dominican Republic-Puerto Rico Bilateral Commission.
Álvarez-Bonilla was in Puerto Rico taking part in the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce’s annual convention, during which the governments of both islands officially established the Dominican-Puerto Rican and Caribbean Entrepreneurial Alliance, which seeks to strengthen commercial relations among the business sectors in the Caribbean and Latin America.
In an aside with News is my Business, Álvarez-Bonilla said there are at least 10 projects under development in the Dominican Republic, involving Puerto Rican capital and expertise, that are ready to begin operating. While he did not reveal details of the said projects, the Dominican government official said three, all of which will be dedicated to renewable energy, are slated to inaugurate “soon.”
“The projects in the pipeline involve Puerto Rican capital investments in the Dominican Republic in the areas of biofuel production, solid waste management and aeolic energy,” said Álvarez-Bonilla. “There is a lot of interest, but there are also many obstacles that we have to get over to see even more development.”
He mentioned access to capital as the main problem, as banks — in both islands as well as in the international community — are not as willing to lend to these types of capital-heavy, long-term projects.
“There are many opportunities, but the first problem we’re facing is securing commercial credit. We have to find a way to convince banks that these projects are long-term. However, there are a few projects in the works that are being financed with private capital, which can be completed quicker,” he said.
At present, the balance of planned projects is tipping heavier toward the Dominican Republic, where there is a “beneficial current in favor of achieving these projects and there’s also political interest for these things to happen, and when that exists, a lot can be accomplished,” the public servant said.
Similar energy production projects are viable for Puerto Rico, but a separate set of obstacles stands in the way, he said, mentioning regulatory, branding and financial issues as disincentives.
Capitalizing on Obama’s visit
President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Puerto Rico and the widespread interest in spurring the Caribbean region’s economy are matters that should be “taken very seriously” and tackled jointly by the islands to reap the most benefits possible, Álvarez-Bonilla said.
“We have to jointly carry out whatever necessary steps are in order to be able to get better incentives and better credit for programs to expand industries and trade between both islands,” he said.
Puerto Rico is the Dominican Republic’s fourth-largest trading partner, behind the U.S. mainland, the European Union and Haiti. Commercial activity between both islands reaches about $1 billion a year, with most of the benefit going to the neighboring nation.