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Group to government: Go slow on imposing safeguard duty on cement imports

Consumer group Laban Konsyumer Inc. on Tuesday urged the government to think twice before imposing safeguard duty on cement imports, warning that such move could jack up the price and create a shortage of the vital construction commodity.

In a news statement, Laban Konsyumer President Victorio Mario A. Dimagiba said the government should recall its motu proprio investigation on imported cement. He argued the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) must only probe cement imports if a local party so requests.

“Cement importers cannot commit to the demand of the government’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ [program] projects, as well as private developers for long-term supply contracts, due to the pending petition for the imposition of safeguard duty,” Dimagiba said.

“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,” he added.

He also took a swipe at the DTI for initiating an investigation without the assurance that local cement producers will expand their plant capacities.

“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,” Dimagiba added.

“On the other hand, imported cement are subjected to double testing certification—first, at the 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,” he said.

Laban Konsyumer is planning to elevate the matter to the Philippine Competition Commission, and if possible, to President Duterte.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez in September initiated an investigation to determine whether the government should impose a safeguard measure on cement, as imports of the construction commodity rose in significant volumes in the past years to the detriment of the domestic industry.

An industry review by the DTI reported that the volume of cement imports increased continuously in absolute terms from 2013 to 2017, which is also the period that will be probed by the agency. The increases compared with the previous years are 70 percent in 2014; 4,391 percent in 2015; 549 percent in 2016 and 72 percent last year.