FPI renews push for tighter cement, steel import control  

The Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), representing local manufacturers, is pushing for an equal treatment between importers and manufacturers of steel and cement, as the Duterte administration gears up for a stepped up infrastructure development under the “Build, Build, Build” program.

Manufacturers continue to find loopholes in the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) draft department administrative orders (DAO) on cement and steel importation, insisting both products must still undergo in-country testing.

The DTI’s DAO 17-02 proposes a minimum requirement of preshipment inspection (PSI) as a substitute for testing imported cement upon arrival.

“They have prepared an order, saying all shipments of cement, and eventually steel bars, will be subjected to preshipment inspection. That’s fine, but there has to be inspection at the port of entry, and results from [the DTI’s testing] should be awaited before being released into the market,” FPI President Jesus L. Arranza said at news briefing on Monday.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, commenting on the DAO on cement some weeks ago, said he may be inclined to allow cement imports to just undergo PSI at their port of destination. Upon arrival and upon passing the test, the imports will only be subjected to a minimal “verification” process at the port of entry.

Pure cement traders/importers, for their part, have groused that aside from ballooning costs from cement storage, spoilage may also occur due to the lengthy testing process by the Bureau of Product Standards (BPS).

Arranza, however, said that the DTI should move to accredit more testing centers to facilitate entry.

“I’m not against importation, but only if importers do not pay the right duties and if the products are substandard. Let’s not have trade facilitation but sacrifice quality,” he added.

For steel, Philippine Iron and Steel Institute President Roberto M. Cola similarly insisted on in-country testing and called for the wider accreditation of testing labs so as to hasten the entry of steel products.

“Just like the cement, testing should be done here. Steel is a commodity, and in the case of commodities, the origin of the shipment is difficult to trace. A shipment can come from anywhere or wherever it’s most convenient. [The] DTI just have one accredited lab for testing,” Cola stressed, referring to the Metals Industry Research and Development Center  under the Department of Science and Technology.

At the moment, the Philippines only have a few products under mandatory testing compared to Asean counterparts, Cola said.

If the government is concerned with trade facilitation, the logic doesn’t add up as the Philippines is already heavily reliant on imports.

“If we’re talking about facilitation, we have to look at the trade balance with a country and, second, what is the reciprocity arrangement? We don’t export any steel. In terms of trade balance, 90 percent of our steel is imported, so what else are we facilitating?” Cola said.

“We don’t want to just rely on pre-shipment inspection, that gives no protection to consumers,” he added.



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