President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has lifted the ban on the importation of bagged cement into the country.
The lifting of the ban, according to the government, is with a view to bridging the deficit of 11.5Mt in the supply of cement, which has been recurrent in the industry in the last few years.
Minister of Commerce and Industry, Mr Charles Ugwuh, who announced Federal Government’s decision in Abuja yesterday at a stakeholders’ meeting, explained that the President was concerned about the shortage of cement as against demand in the market.
The annual demand for cement is estimated at about 18Mt.
But the annual consumption of cement in the country for last year was estimated at 11.125Mt.
Yesterday’s lifting of the ban on cement importation came on the heels of a proposal submitted by Ugwuh to President Yar’Adua after the stakeholders meeting held in October 2007.
At that meeting, government had kicked against the hike in price of cement and huge deficit in local production and supply of the product.
Addressing the meeting, Ugwuh said: "This meeting is important because it is called at the instance of the President. In October 2007, I met Mr. President after the series of meetings I had with you and due consultation with individual stakeholders. We submitted a proposal to Mr. President indicating the capacity of the demand in the market place in Nigeria vis a vis real local production capacity.
"Based on that, we established there is a shortfall with regards to supply and we requested Mr. President to approve in accordance with the cement policy the importation of the differential between the market demand and the established local production capacity.
"Local operators can only supply between 6 and 6.5Mt of cement leaving the deficit of 11.5Mt. It was based on this that the President now wrote and gave approval and a guideline on what we should do and what the stakeholders and business group should do in this matter," he said.
While maintaining that the decision of government was aimed at rejuvenating the cement industry, the minister also said the move would go a long way to alleviate the suffering of consumers who pay through their noses for the cement; stabilize price and supply of cement as well as encourage investors.
Ugwuh also affirmed that the administration was willing to enter into a pact with the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) to liberalise trade under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which many European countries would soon take advantage of.
"In terms of market opening, we do have a tremendous opportunity for all of you producers in Nigeria mainly because the whole of ECOWAS is indeed and could indeed depend on Nigeria from Mauritania to Cameroon as far down as Angola given the speed of expansion taking place in the oil industry in their country and in the building of infrastructure.
"So the current situation where we are not making adequate investment and growing the business in the way we should does really encourage the policy makers, the President of this country as many people are complaining that the policy is not working," he said.