The Colombian government decided to eliminate a 10% tariff on imported cement to limit price increases in the local market and boost competition, Environment and Housing Minister Juan Lozano said Monday.
The prices of cement has risen between 14% and 20% so far this year, Lozano told Caracol Radio station on Monday. He said the government doesn’t want the price increase to hurt the big infrastructure projects and the construction of housing.
Lozano didn’t specify when the tariff cut would take effect.
"There is a clear decision not to allow higher cement price increases and, if a price increase happens again, the government will use all its administrative tools" for that purpose, Lozano said.
The construction industry heavily contributed to the country’s economic growth and the government counts on infrastructure projects to keep the economy from decelerating too strongly.
The cement market is controlled by only three companies in the country, and the government will order the anti-trust watchdog to investigate the recent price increases.
In December, the anti-trust watchdog fined the country’s three largest cement makers, Cementos Argos and the local units of Cemex SA and Holcim Ltd), COP923m (US$377,000) each, saying they fixed prices in the second half of 2005. The regulator found there was exchange of confidential information between the three companies and contacts between officials.
The companies appealed the fine, according to the anti-trust agency’s press office.
Lozano said Cementos Argos promised to keep a preferred price for infrastructure projects and government-subsidized housing for poor people. He added Cemex also has a "social" price for some sectors.
No officials at the three companies were immediately available to comment on the price increases in Colombia.