Pakistan cement export wars return to South Africa

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South African authorities have started a new investigation into imports of cement from Pakistan. This time the inquiry will examine trade dumping allegations made by local producers including Afrisam, Lafarge, NPC Cimpor and PPC.

The application made by the cement producers provided evidence that the difference between the price of cement (the dumping margin) in Pakistan and for imports from Pakistan in 2013 was 48%. Or, in other words, the price of Pakistan cement imported to South Africa was nearly half that of what is was being sold for in the country that it was actually produced in.

The data submitted to the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa comes from a report by Genesis Analytics on Pakistan cement prices in 2013 and tax information from the South African Revenue Service. Neither source is readily available for more detailed analysis here but data released by XA International Trade Advisors suggests that cement imports from Pakistan rose to 1.1Mt/yr in 2013 and at a value of US$59m. Roughly, this gives a price of US$55/t. This compares to an average price of US$90/t, from the All Pakistan Manufacturers' Association for the first nine months of the 2012 – 2013 Pakistani fiscal year, giving a dumping margin similar to the allegation by the South African cement producers.

Separate industry sources quoted by the Pakistan media on the story reported that the country supplies 1.5 - 1.6Mt/yr of cement to South Africa, its biggest export market, receiving a revenue of US$125m. Although this suggests a dumping margin lower than the one presented to the authorities it is still high.

Other information of note in the investigation notification is that the Pakistan cement imports are only competing heavily with the local bagged cement market in the Southern African Customs Union, which also includes neighbouring Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland. The notification discounts bulk cement imports from Pakistan as being 'prohibitively' expensive suggesting that the Pakistan cement producers have no import infrastructure in southern Africa or that something else is stopping them. For example, the country's market leader for production, Lucky Cement, has export facilities in Karachi with silos and automatic ship loaders. Yet it's only 'brick-and-mortar' presence overseas are projects building an integrated plant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a grinding plant in Iraq.

It may also be worth considering that South African industry newcomer Sephaku Cement hasn't joined the dumping allegation. The Dangote subsidiary was set to start producing clinker in late August 2014. This is out of character considering how prominent the Nigerian-based cement producer has been in campaigning against imports to its home nation. However, the Aganang plant in Lichtenburg, North West Province is over 700km from the coast and presumably safe from foreign imports at present.

One final question occurs. How are Pakistan cement producers able to dump bagged cement on the South African market at prices lower than what they are selling it for at home? If individual producers sold their excess at home at a lower price they could potentially undercut their competitors and make a profit. There are many barriers, from input costs to industry structural issues and other reasons that may be preventing this. However, if the South African cement producers succeed in their latest attempt to block imports from Pakistan it may add more impetus to remove such barriers.

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