No Cement

Flashback: OUT OF STOCK: A sign that reads “No Cement” is displayed at a hardware store in East Trinidad. The price of cement has tripled since Covid-19 came to our shores in 2020. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

CEMENT importer, Rock Hard Cement, yesterday signalled that it intends to increase its price of the commodity on the local market from July 1, 2021, “due to rising prices worldwide along with the volatility of shipping during the second half of the year”.

There was no indication of the size of the price increase that Rock Hard intends to impose on the local market.

The announcement, which was made in a newspaper advertisement, comes as cement has disappeared from the shelves and depots of many hardware stores throughout Trinidad and Tobago.

That is because Trinidad Cement Ltd, the local manufacturer of cement, stopped selling the commodity on the local market more than a month ago. TCL issued a public advisory last month that it “has not been facilitating sales or local commercial activities since May 8”.

TCL said it has been “operating within the parameters of the Government restrictions and will continue to do so until further notice” and that it has been “complying with the Government’s regulations to reduce the spread of Covid-19.”

In its notice to the public, Rock Hard Cement said: “We have seen the impact of the global pandemic on the prices of products and the economic challenges faced in many countries after being closed for several months.”

The cement importer said that for the last year and a half, Barbados-based, St Lucia-registered Rock Hard Distribution had successfully deployed several strategic measures to avoid increasing the price of its cement.

“Unfortunately, we cannot sustain these prices any further with costs continuing to go up,” said Rock Hard Cement, adding that it was “confident that the market prices will stabilise in 2022”.

The company also said that it would “continue to do all we can during this challenging period to ensure we supply products at the most competitive prices possible.”

Contacted for comment in Parliament yesterday, Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon said she would not comment on matters that are before the High Court and the Caribbean Court of Justice.

But asked on May 30 to comment on a receipt from a popular hardware store in Debe indicating the sale of a 42.5-kilogramme bag of cement on May 24 for $300, Gopee-Scoon said then: “According to the existing public health regulations, construction activities are not allowed at this time.

“In addition, consumers should exercise discretion to avoid being victims of price gouging in the market place. The MTI urges retailers of cement not to advantage of consumers during these challenging times.”

Cement varies in price throughout the country with one of the largest hardware store chains selling the commodity at $44 a bag VAT inclusive in January,

Rock Hard is waging a legal battle against the Government’s decision to place imported cement on the negative list, restrict imports of the commodity to 75,000 tonnes a year and increase the Common External Tariff on imported cement to 50 per cent from five per cent.

In February, the CCJ issued an order temporarily barring the Government from applying the 50 per cent Common External Tariff (CET) on imported cement, which was increased from five per cent, this year.

The CCJ’s order will stay in place until it hears and determines the company’s substantive lawsuit on the issue.

In a newspaper advertisement on January 3, TCL said the Claxton Bay-headquartered company did not intend to increase the price of its cement in the short term.

Asked to specify what he meant by short term, TCL’s general manager, Guillermo Rojo, said, “TCL does not take an opportunistic approach, since we did not announce any price increase effective January 1, we are not going to increase prices in the short term. Like any other manufacturer, in the medium- and long terms prices might fluctuate based on input costs significant changes.”

For the first three months of 2021, TCL Group’s after-tax profit increased by 356 per cent to $46.16 million from $10.11 million for the first quarter of 2020.

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