(STAR) By Marvin Sy - The biggest manufacturer and supplier of feeds in the People’s Republic of China has decided to expand its operations in the Philippines after meeting with Philippine government officials here the other day.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said that the Sichuan province-based New Hope Group led by its president Liu Yonghao has committed to establish three more feed plants in all three major regions of the Philippines.

In Luzon, Yap said that the company would be setting up somewhere in Isabela while for the Visayas and Mindanao, the Department of Agriculture would be assisting them in finding a location.

Yap was in China with President Arroyo for her two-day official visit to Chengdu and Chongqing.

Yap arrived ahead of the President who flew in the other day from her visit to Rome, Italy and Portugal.

The agriculture secretary said that he attended a three-hour agri-business conference with Chinese farm industry players to try and find some goods that could be used for complementary trade between the two countries.

According to Yap, the New Hope Group already has operations in the Philippines, specifically along the Mac Arthur Highway and San Simon, both in the President’s home province of Pampanga.

The Mac Arthur Highway plant of New Hope was an investment worth $11 million while the San Simon plant, which is still being completed, is worth approximately $7 million.

“What is clear is that after my meeting with their chairman Mr. Liu, they have decided to push through with the additional three plants,” Yap said.

“I assured them that the government will continue to assist investors especially them, the foreign investors, if they continue to come into the country,” he added.

For the proposed Visayas and Mindanao operations of New Hope, Yap said that the DA is helping them identify the areas where they could be supplied with sweet sorghum, cassava and corn.

TC scraps duties on imported cement By Ma. Elisa P. Osorio Friday, June 8, 2007 (STAR)

The Tariff Commission (TC) will recommend to Malacañang the elimination of duties on the importation of cement, a move that is expected to bring down cement prices in the local market.

A three-percent tariff is currently levied on every 40 kilos of cement coming from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and five percent from non-Asean members.

World Bank country director Joachim Von Amsberg earlier said the price of cement in the Philippines is “too high” and suggested opening up the industry which is dominated by three major players.

“We need to inject more competition in the market,” said a ranking TC official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official added TC chairman Edgardo Abon and his two commissioners have recognized the need to remove the duties imposed on cement in order to make the product cheaper.

The recommendation will be forwarded to the Cabinet-level Committee on Tariff and Related Matters (CTRM), which will decide if it would be carried for the issuance of an executive order (EO).

But cement manufacturers strongly opposed the move, saying the removal of tariff on cement will pave the way for dumping, which will cause the industry to lose billions.

”The zero percent tariff is very damaging to the industry,” Cement Manufacturers of the Philippines (CeMAP) president Ernesto Ordonez said.

A multisectoral coalition advocating trade and economic reforms has also supported CeMAP’s position to keep the tariff on cement.

The Fair Trade Alliance, through their lead convenor Wigberto Tanada said manufacturers in China , Taiwan, Japan and other competing countries would be shipping their cement to the Philippines especially when they run out of silos and warehouses to store their quick-hardening cement.

“These excess capacities are targeted for the Philippines because of our fast growing market for infrastructure building,” Tañada said.  “There is no more room for this quick hardening surplus cement in their silos and warehouses. The factories in China, Japan and other countries would ship them out at artificially low prices. They have little to lose.”

The cement industry is dominated by three major players — Cemex, Holcim and LaFarge- but CeMAP said there is hardly any cartel in the industry since there is even a price war among the competitors.

Ordonez questioned the motive behind the tariff elimination, pointing out that there is only a need to remove the safeguards if there is a cartel. “The industry is as liberalized as they can come,” he explained.

Ordonez said the tariff is a way to level the playing field. In fact, he said the tariff in the Philippines is much lower compared to Malaysia, which has 50 percent, and Vietnam, with 20 percent.

“This (tariff removal) sends the wrong signal,” he lamented.

Ordonez said the move is unfair for the foreigners who came in to invest in the country. “They put in capital. They gave us labor opportunities. We should appreciate them,” he stressed.

He said after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the local cement companies were faced with a shrinking market and financial problems. International players then came in as “white knights” to save local companies from their financial woes.

According to the TC report, the crisis ensured that the local companies were bought for a  bargain, if not basement, prices. Between 1997 and 1999, Blue Circle, Cemex, Holcim and Lafarge took over twelve companies which gave them 89 percent of total industry capacity.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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