Govt to back construction, consumer sectors – Lopez

THE government is intent on supporting the construction industry given the government’s infrastructure push while also upholding consumer protection, the Trade department said.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez expressed this position on Wednesday as he reiterated that existing rules, particularly for cement, would protect both sectors.

“Whether addressing the quality of cement or steel products, the government needs to ensure the healthy state of the construction industry as our partner in the Build, Build, Build Program to create the Golden Age of Infrastructure,” Lopez said.

“This order would also support our initiatives in disaster preparedness, especially with President [Rodrigo] Duterte urging Congress during his State of the Nation Address to pass a law that would establish an agency that tackles recent disasters like the Leyte earthquake,” he added.

The trade chief issued this statement after groups criticized Department Administrative Order (DAO) 17-02 as being discriminatory and unfair as it requires importers to secure import commodity clearances (ICCs) for cement imports.

Lopez said this would protect consumers and ensure compliance with standards. Big users have equipment to re-test but smaller consumers can only rely on standards verification seals issued by the government, he added.
Last month, Laban Konsyumer Inc. (LKI) urged the DTI to recall new rules on cement importation.

“I just want the Department of Trade and Industry to recall the DAO and rewrite a uniform technical regulation applicable to imported cement to remove suspicion of graft and maintain product quality for all,” LKI President Vic Dimagiba told The Manila Times in a text message on Monday.

The DAO, which was issued in February, requires the application of the Philippine Standards licenses on foreign producers of cement imports and import commodity clearances for imports as well as a required minimum paid capitalization of P20 million for all cement importers.

Trade Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said that through initiatives like the DAO, the Trade department was focusing quality infrastructure.

“This holistic approach will ensure that quality products, high engineering standards, experienced construction companies, and a competent Filipino construction labor force are integral elements of the Philippine construction industry,” she said.

Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo concurred, saying: “We look at construction materials as strategic inputs and we encourage domestic value-adding through incentives and industry planning, not through protection.”

“We see infrastructure growth and industry development as mutually reinforcing. We want a certain level of domestic self-sufficiency to ensure the long-term sustainability of competitively-priced, quality supply,” he added.

Rodolfo pointed out that the demand for cement needed to be sustained in particular, hence domestic sufficiency is critical.

“Our annual per capita cement consumption currently stands at only about 210 kgs as of 2014. This is way below that of Thailand at about 430 kgs., Vietnam with 520 kgs., China with 1,581 kgs., and Indonesia with 230 kgs. In filling the need for cement, we do not want to completely be at the mercy of global supply and demand factors,” he said.

Meanwhile, Trade Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya, who heads the department’s Regional Operations Group, gave assurances that regional units would take swift action on product testing.

“By certifying the quality of cement products used in building throughout the regions, we can avoid possible negative impact of natural disasters like earthquakes on regional business,” Maglaya said.

The DTI issued the DAO to address the issue of imports found to have incomplete markings. Cement bags that did not have manufacturing dates and batch numbers were being sold in hardware stores in the provinces.

The department has undertaken consultations to address stakeholder concerns and said it would continue to fine tune procedures.

The umbrella organization for the local steel industry, the Philippine Iron and Steel Institute (PISI), has also asking the DTI to regularly monitor areas affected by a 6.5-magnitude earthquake last month.

“PISI strongly recommends that DTI-CPG (Department of Trade and Industry-Consumer Protection Group) immediately launch a regular market monitoring/standards enforecement in Leyte and Samar as the rebuilding activites are now starting in these earthquake-affected areas,” Roberto Cola, president of PISI said.

The PISI claimed that a visiting team had found that uncertified rebar was used in several damaged structures and substandard materials were being sold in markets.

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