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PCIA warns of construction slowdown

STAKEHOLDERS warned of a slowdown in construction of projects should the government impose safeguard measures against cement imports.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Philippine Cement Importers Association, Inc. (PCIA) said that several importers are now “wary and have halted cement importation” following the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) safeguard investigation launched last September.

“Considering that there are ongoing talks about safeguard measures, importers are starting to be reluctant to order cement supply because they might get caught with the sudden imposition of safeguard measures,” Napoleon Co, president of the PCIA, was quoted as saying.

Local plants are roughly producing 26 to 28 million metric tons (MT) of cement. However, the current domestic demand stands at 31 to 32 million MT, resulting in a shortage of four to seven million MT.

Although local cement manufacturers have committed to putting up additional plants, these will only be able to start operations in three to four years.

“In the meantime, somebody has to import to fill in the gap of the shortage of cement…. if this demand won’t be filled up by imports, there will be serious shortage of supply and most of the building projects will slow down,” Mr. Co added.

The PCIA also pointed out the impact of cement-import restraints on consumers who will bear the additional cost.

“[If] there will be serious shortage of supply (of cement), the retailers might be forced to increase the price. And so, the consumer again will have to suffer by absorbing the price increases,” Mr. Co added.

The DTI has an ongoing review to know whether cement imports, particularly those shipped during the years 2013 to 2017, brought affected the domestic industry.

The agency said cement imports shipped in 2014 saw a 70% increase from 2013 levels; 2015 saw a 4,391% spike from year-ago levels; 2016 registered a 549% rise; and 2017 recorded a 72% from the prior year.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez clarified that no special safeguard measure has been imposed yet as the investigation is undergoing.

“We are not saying no to imports. We have to balance. Also need to manage trade balance — if supply is there, local manufactured goods should be given level playing field…. Otherwise, we should not blame later the government for weaker exports and huge imports and trade imbalance,” Mr. Lopez said in a mobile message yesterday. — Janina C. Lim