Not enough to get Rock Hard Cement back

Bags of Rock Hard cement ready for distribution. FILE PHOTO - JEFF K MAYERS
Bags of Rock Hard cement ready for distribution. FILE PHOTO - JEFF K MAYERS

Despite the government's waiving the cement importation quota in the face of a price increase from Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL), it's not enough to see the return of its largest recent competitor, Rock Hard Cement.

Operating for five years, Rock Hard Distribution Inc withdrew from TT on September 17, 2021, after legal battles with the Government.

A release on its Facebook page then cited what it described as discrimination by the government through its policies as the reason.

Managing director Ryan Ramhit told Business Day one of the major problems was while his cement was "hydraulic," it was classified as "portland," or building-grade cement.

This meant instead of paying a tariff of zero-five per cent, the company was subject to a duty of 15 per cent. The company was successful in its legal challenge against the move. However, he said the tariff on hydraulic cement was increased to 35 per cent soon after. The 2021 release said the tariff reached as high as 50 per cent in 2020, following which the company was subject to a Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) importation limit of 55,000 tonnes of cement in 2021.

In the face of TCL's price increase, the MTI last week waived the importation cap, which stood at 150,000 tonnes, while keeping the 20 per cent Common External Tariff.

Despite this, Ramhit said the market conditions still do not favour a return.

"My business was not based on that (tariff). It is not feasible for me."

Additionally, he said the government stopped cargo importation through the Caribbean Dock in Chaguaramas which drove up the cost of discharging the cement.

A fleet of Rock Hard Cement trucks. FILE PHOTO - JEFF K MAYERS

Ramhit said he would love to reintroduce his product to the local market once conditions were more favourable, especially to provide competition against the cement monopoly.

"When we came on to the market to the point when we left...I believe a bag of cement had dropped to almost $30 on a bag.

"I would love to come back onto the market. Rock Hard would love to be back on the market in Trinidad so at least the country and the people in the country and the construction sector could have an option and have the competition, and healthy competition at that."

However, even if the government meets his criteria for re-entering, he admitted he was hesitant, fearing a repeat of history.

"So say that, okay, they drop the duties to where I want, they allow me to come back onto the market...within a year TCL runs back to them and they go and they do back the same thing.

"Doing business in Trinidad becomes volatile for me. It's not stable, because I'm not sure what the government could do."

The Rock Hard TT managing director said the product, sold in Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, St Maarten, St Vincent, St Lucia, Antigua and Grenada, is doing well in these territories and is even incentivised.

"All the islands, they give incentives on the import of cement for the construction industry, rather than prohibit and make it harder for competition."

In May 2022, cement was zero-rated in Guyana, as the Guyanese Revenue Authority removed VAT.

TCL increased its premium plus and eco-cement by 6.63 and 7.69 per cent on Monday, costing customers an average of $3 extra per 42.5-kilogramme bag.

Bags of Rock hard cement being loaded onto a truck for sale at a hardware in San Fernando in 2017. FILE PHOTO - JEFF K MAYERS

The new prices of cement from the factory are $57.38 and $53.81 respectively.

It was the fourth increase over the last 26 months.

The first of these hikes came around three months after Rock Hard Cement left the market. The latest increase represents over hike of over 30 per cent in prices over the period.

The company attributed the new pricing to an increase in production costs.

Business Day was unable to get further comment from TCL despite liaising with its communications department and submitting questions by e-mail.

Last week's release from the MTI said the ministry is expected to meet with TCL to discuss the price increase.

However, Business Day was unable to get comments from the MTI on whether this meeting occurred or a status update on whether licences were being applied for and issued to import cement.

Despite numerous attempts, Business Day was also unable to secure comments from Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, who only said, in a WhatsApp message, "These are matters to be discussed at Cabinet firstly."


"Not enough to get Rock Hard Cement back"

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