Rock Hard Cement is firing back at claims that its classification under Caricom's Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) is undermining local and regional producers. The brand is manufactured in Turkey but distributed in the Caribbean by Barbados-based Rock Hard. Last week, the Caribbean Court of Justice upheld a decision that Rock Hard's cement, classed by COTED as hydraulic cement (which can harden even in the presence of water), can retain its lower tariff (zero to five per cent), as opposed to being classed as building cement (grey) (non-hydraulic cement, which strengthens as it dries), which has a much higher 15 per cent tariff.
In an ad appearing in today's paper, Rock Hard said it was a true Caribbean company, and thanked its customers for enabling it to "remove protective barriers" on cement, which other companies had exploited for monopolistic interests. "International investors welcome free trade and transparent policies. State protectionism through high import tariffs acts as a barrier to foreign investors and investment," Rock Hard said, adding its support for the removal of protectionist barriers to improve greater international trade from both imports and exports.
TT, local manufacturer Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL) and its Barbados subsidiary, Arawak Cement, had argued that such a classification was flawed and against the objective of the Caricom tax. TCL, which was acquired by Mexican giant Cemex in 2017, for a long time had a monopoly in the regional cement market as the only indigenous producer. Rock Hard took a veiled swipe at this change in status to say that it was a Caribbean company where all its board members were from the Caribbean, and its profits were reinvested in the region. The CCJ in its ruling said COTED was entitled to its decision, based on the World Customs Organisation's harmonising rules but also suggested COTED do an study on the state of cement in the region given changes in the industry.
On Monday, the TT Manufacturers' Association released a statement effectively saying that the decision gave the imported cement an unfair advantage over locally produced cement. Both types of cement – hydraulic and non-hydraulic – when imported should attract the same tariff so as to protect locally-made product, especially in light of the aim of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) purpose of developing regional industries.
“TT's maximum tariff on the classification, ‘Other Hydraulic Cement’ of zero to five per cent is grossly low in comparison to other regional countries whose bound (maximum) rates are much higher, for example Jamaica (50 per cent) and Barbados (70 per cent)." This low tariff, the TTMA argued, does not fulfil the objectives of the Caribbean Single Market Economy for full employment of labour and other factors of production; accelerated, co-ordinated and sustained economic development; and organisation for increased production and productivity.
A TTMA spokesman on Monday told Newsday they urged a review of the framework now in place for the tariffs, but not the CCJ judgement.