By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Consumer advocacy group Laban Konsyumer Inc. has urged the Department of Trade and Industry to recall the moto propio safeguards duty petition on imported cement.
LKI President Victorio Mario Dimagiba said they have entered intervention in the moto propio petition filed by the DTI Secretary who initiated a safeguard duty investigation on imported cement sans any application from the local cement industry.
According to Dimagiba, his group is also considering of elevating the DTI action to the President and the Philippine Competition Commission.
The 2 pages LKI intervention was received by the Bureau of Import Services on September 27, 2018, a Bureau reporting directly to the DTI Secretary and acknowledged received by the BIS Director on October 2, 2018.
Dimagiba said that the cement importers cannot commit to the demand of the government Build Build Build projects as well as private developers for long term supply contracts due to the pending petition for the imposition of safeguard duty.
The imposition of the safeguard duty is detrimental to the consumers and can create shortages in the supply of cement that can derail private and infrastructure projects and can increase retail prices.
Dimagiba added that the DTI should ensure the completion of the expansion of local plant capacities before starting a safeguard duty investigation on imported cement.
Dimagiba himself has a more than 2 year old complaint pending with the Philippine Competition Commission against the members of the Cement Manufacturers Association of the Philippines or Cemap, which earlier determined preliminary findings to proceed to a full investigation.
R.A. 10667, or the Philippine Competition Act, was passed in 2015 and the Philippine Competition Commission is tasked to punish anti-competitive conduct against those who practice cartel. In the meantime, Dimagiba says that the Philippine government should freely allow cement imports to protect the greater interest of Filipino consumers.
At the aftermath of the Asian financial crises in 1997, the country’s cement industry fell into the hands of multinationals Cemex, LaFarge-Holcim and CRH. Multinationals control 70 percent more or less the country’s production capacity.
These companies have been fined or investigated continuously for their involvement in cement cartels worldwide according to Dimagiba.
Dimagiba cited antitrust proceedings against gainst Cemex, Holcim and Heidelberg, among others, for alleged collusion to fix prices in 9 EU countries and in other markets in South America for monopolistic practices by blocking importation of cement.
“The DTI must implement strict quality standards on local cement to ensure compliance to product standards, and to guard against the use of waste materials, fly ash from coal plants as well as lahar sand. On the other hand, imported cement are subjected to double testing certification, first, at point of origin and second, at the discharge ports. This redounds to the benefit of the consumers in terms of stable, quality and competitive prices as well as a choice of what cement to buy and use ” Dimagiba said.