The Philippine Tariff Commission is bent on hearing a cement manufacturers’ appeal to extend safeguard duties versus imported gray Portland cement, noting that no temporary restraining order or injunction has so far been issued against the agency. Acting on the petition of the Cement Manufacturers Association of the Philippines or CeMAP, the tariff body said it decided to acquire jurisdiction over the matter after it was endorsed by the Trade department for deliberation last Nov. 30.
"In the absence of any restraining order or injunction coming from any judicial body ordering the Commission not to proceed [or] discontinue its investigation, the Commission held that the said endorsement of the petition by the Secretary of Trade and Industry is presumed regular and therefore it would proceed with the investigation," the Commission said in a three-page order released last month.
A staunch opponent of the safeguard measure, Japanese cement importer Southern Cross Cement Corp., has questioned the proceedings before the Supreme Court, asking it to stop the Trade department, the Tariff Commission, and the Bureau of Customs from acting on the CeMAP appeal. The Supreme Court has yet to decide on the Dec, 15 petition which argued that the safeguards, which expired last Dec. 10, had been declared null and void in July. If there is a cease-and-desist order from any judicial body, the Tariff Commission said it would be accorded "honor/respect."
Tariff Commission staff, meanwhile, have committed to release their findings between Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, after which a public consultation will be held. The Commission will then submit its full report to the Trade secretary between March 14 and 18. Domestic cement manufacturers have asked the government to extend the safeguard duty versus imported cement for four more years until 2008, arguing that the industry is not yet ready for foreign competition.
The Supreme Court earlier nullified the safeguards upon the request of Southern Cross Cement, ruling that then Trade secretary Manuel A. Roxas II overstepped his authority by imposing a definitive P20.60 safeguard duty (later reduced to P15.60) for every 40-kilogram bag of imported cement in June 2003 despite the Tariff Commission’s finding that it was not necessary.
CeMAP President Felix Enrico R. Alfiler has said "the reason [why] the safeguards were [first] granted [in 2001] still remain right now". He said there is still excess capacity in the region that can be dumped in the Philippines.
Low cement tariffs of three per cent within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Free Trade Area and five per cent Most-Favored Nation rate elsewhere "will make the Philippines a magnet for cement imports," he argued.