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Consumers eye challenge to tax on cement imports

A CONSUMER group is firming up plans to ask the court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the provisional tax on cement imports with respect to hearings at the Tariff Commission.

Consumer group Laban Konsyumer Inc. is eyeing to ask the court to hold off the implementation of the safeguard duty on imported cement imposed by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). This is to ease buyers of the burden of paying higher prices for their cement requirement.

Laban Konsyumer President Victorio Mario A. Dimagiba told the Tariff Commission—as a quasi-judicial body—to suspend the duty of P210 per metric ton (MT) on cement imports while it is investigating the matter.

If the Tariff Commission declines to do so, Dimagiba said his group will appeal to the court to intervene and issue a TRO halting the tax on imported cement. He argued that consumers are already reeling from higher costs of food and fuel and can no longer afford price spikes in other basic goods.

Cement is listed as a prime commodity under the Price Act.

“That is another option that Laban Konsyumer can do: filing a case in a regional trial court. We will just wait for the order of the Tariff Commission,” Dimagiba said in a phone interview.

The Tariff Commission on Monday started probing the merits of imposing a definitive safeguard measure against imported cement as endorsed by Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez.

The tariff body will hear for a period of 120 calendar days the arguments of local manufacturers and importers on whether there is a need to protect the domestic industry. According to Tariff Commission Chairman Marilou P. Mendoza, this is the first time the agency will look into a safeguard measure case lodged by the government.

Mendoza also said should the Tariff Commission decide in favor of local players, the safeguard measure will be in place for three to four years.

Under the DTI’s Department Administrative Order 19-02, an import duty of P210 per MT was slapped on cement. The protectionist measure will take effect for a period of 200 days starting February 9.

The DTI imposed a provisional tax on imported cement after the domestic industry complained about being adversely hit by the surge in imports from 2013 to 2017.

Market share of imports rose to 15 percent in 2017 from 0.02 percent in 2013, according to data from the DTI. Further, sales of the local industry reportedly fell 12 percent, or P11.1 billion in 2017, as manufacturers were compelled to trim prices by nearly 10 percent to compete with imports.