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Questions loom large over local cement industry

Published: 
Thursday, December 7, 2017

The battle for the hearts of cement consumers in the local market that began earlier this year continues to rage on. TCL, the local manufacturer, and imported cement supplier Rock Hard Cement continue to be entangled as questions of fair trade practices, cement classification and the application of duties and tariffs by the Customs and Excise division are being raised.

According to documents obtained by Business and Money, in late November 2017, Rock Hard Cement had the common external tariff (CET) on its imported cement suspended thus allowing its latest shipment (its fourth since it began in 2016) to enter duty-free into the country.

Under the law, the company is required to remit a 15 per cent CET charge to the Customs and Excise division for its imported cement and was granted a zero per cent special entrance treatment for cement being offloaded at Chaguaramas.

Documents authorised by newly appointed Comptroller of Customs and Excise Michael Blackman show the approval of the suspension of the 15 per cent CET on the imported cement. One of the documents relate to a shipment of 20,504,000 kgs (31,500 tonnes) of cement originating from Turkey on a vessel listed as the V/Eredine. The documents shows that on November 30, 2017, the imported cement was approved as “ok to load”, with a special endorsement stating that “C+E general order No. 08 of 2017 is suspended” pending further testing and research.

“C+E general order No.08 of 2017” is the classification under which Rock Hard is required to remit its tariff payment. The documents list the importer as Motilal Ramhit and Sons Contracting Ltd. Rock Hard Cement’s local managing director is Ryan Ramhit. Business and Money reached out to both TCL and Ramhit for comments on the state of affairs in what is becoming a fierce cement dust.

According to TCL’s marketing manager Rodney Cowan, Rock Hard’s cement has no basis for being granted an exemption—provisional or otherwise—under current customs provisions.

“Both our cement and Rock Hard’s cement should be treated the same way as the classification of TCL’s cement, according to Customs, falls under building material grey and they are both used for the same general purpose.”

He added: “If you consider the classification by use, it is the same product.”

Commenting on the provisional exemption granted to Rock Hard, Cowan stated that TCL had no issue competing as long as they was done fairly.

“Caricom has agreed based on the fact that we have three Caricom producers of cement that there will be a common external tariff of 15 per cent duty of all cements coming in from outside the region. On the basis of this—which all governments have agreed to—cement coming in from Turkey should be treated as extra regional cement and attract the duty of 15 per cent.”

Questioned about the change of tariff position, Rock Hard’s managing director Ryan Ramhit stated that his company had been paying the 15 per cent duties, but under protest, as according to tests done by internationally accredited cement testing agencies, his company’s cement is classified as different to that of TCL’s.

“We’ve had four shipments of our cement so far and, with the exception of our last shipment, we’ve paid all our customs duties. We’ve paid them under protest, however, as Customs did not conduct proper testing to determine the appropriate classification of our cement.”

He added, “We were informed by the current comptroller that our cement was tested. When we requested evidence of the results it could not have been provided. As such we raised questions about the protocol followed with regards to the testing of the cement.”

Questioned about the difference in its cement relative to TCL’s, according to Ramhit there is a clear classification difference.

He said: “The customs tariffs clearly provide a specific classification for hydraulic blended cement. According to all testing carried out by accredited labs, Rock Hard cement is different. This is also confirmed by the T&T Bureau of Standards.”

Responding to the issue, a senior customs officials said, “The importers of Rock Hard Cement have done what they are supposed to by law.”

Requesting his name not be used, the officer explained, “There was a dispute over the classification of the cement and that is what determines the rate of duty.”

He said TCL was contending the classification of the Rock Hard Cement should fall under the same classification as that being produced by them.

The official said, “Initially, when Rock Hard brought their first shipment, based on the limited information we had, we asked them to pay a deposit.”

Subsequent to this, “The committee which meets to classify goods and items coming into the country, met and based on the information before them, they took a decision to classify it where the duty would have been the same as that being paid by TCL.”

However, the official revealed that following this decision, “The importers of Rock Hard furnished further information which included lab tests and reports from themselves and from the Bureau of Standards which supported their argument that it should be classified as hydraulic cement.”

The official said the law allowed for a review to be done whenever a dispute arose and, following this, a decision was taken to reclassify the product.