The Philippines will import cement from Japan before the end of the year to provide consumers with a cheaper alternative.
Trade Undersecretary Elmer Hernandez said Japanese cement would retail between P145 and P150 per 40-kilogram bag compared with the average price of P200 offered by local makers.
Hernandez told reporters that Trade Secretary Peter Favila had instructed the Board of Investments Friday last week to study the importation of cement through Philippine International Trading Corp.
"This importation will be in place in time for the construction period next year. We are still looking at the import volumes but this cement would have to be sold reflective of the true price of the commodity," said Hernandez.
He said government computations during the Nov. 17 hearing in Congress showed that cement should be priced at P145 to P150 per bag taking into account the price of power and fuel, the bulk of the costs in cement manufacturing.
"We are looking along that price level [P145-P150 per bag]. These imports would also be slapped zero tariff to ensure the imports are priced accordingly," said Hernandez. Cement manufactured locally retails at an average of P200 per bag.
He said since most of the big three cement companies have operations in other countries, the government looked at Japan, which has no industry presence in the Philippines.
The cement imports could be used for government projects and sold to the public similar to parallel importation of drugs, which were sold through the Botika ng Bayan.
The investments board is considering selling these cement imports through distribution centers.
"We have no definite timetable as to when we will start importation, but the start of the construction season is February or March. Then we have to consider the shelf life of cement, which is about two months. I have no idea how long it would take to transport cement from Japan to the Philippines but it is important these imports are sold and disposed immediately," said Hernandez.
Cement companies justified their pricing schemes to members of the committee on trade in the congressional hearing.