NAHB responded that consumers of cement must be considered in any negotiations to end this dispute, and the Commerce secretary has indicated that home builders will be included in any discussions that take place.
During NAHB’s Summer Executive Committee meeting in Montreal in August, builders sent more than 400 letters to members of Congress calling on them to contact the Commerce Department to express concern over cement shortages and to urge the department to take action to address the problem.
Due in part to these efforts and a strong push from the Florida Home Builders Association, nine U.S. Representatives from Florida on Sept. 23 urged Secretary Evans to “at least temporarily lift the tariffs on the importation of Mexican cement until the current shortage has eased. This action is necessary for the reconstruction of Florida.”
Taking the message to the media that the best solution is to suspend the prohibitively expensive anti-dumping duties in order to increase the supply of cement, NAHB’s Howard appeared in major news outlets in recent weeks, including CNN, National Public Radio, Bloomberg and USA Today. This helped to generate favorable editorials calling for the lifting of Mexican cement tariffs in The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and the Orlando Sentinel.
These developments have spurred the Commerce Department to remain actively engaged in seeking to work out a deal with Mexican officials to lift the onerous tariffs that have been in place since 1990.
“The Bush Administration has continued informal talks with the Mexican government and with representatives from the U.S. and Mexican cement industries,” said Evans. “We have and will continue to work to identify an alternative solution to continued operation of the anti-dumping order.”
During this month’s NAHB board of directors meeting in Columbus, OH, John Bloom, an economist with the Mexican-based global cement firm CEMEX, said that the growing dependence of the U.S. cement industry on imports from Asia and Europe is resulting in shortages that are adverse for commerce in the U.S.
“Due to the anti-dumping order against Mexican cement, the U.S. cement industry has become more dependent on more distant and less reliable countries for imports,” he said.
Bloom noted that explosive growth in the economies of China and other Asian nations has overtaxed the world’s shipping capacity, doubling freight rates since last year. “It has become very difficult to line up vessels to ship cement, especially when the trip from Asia takes over 40 days,” he said.
By contrast, the average delivery time is only four days from Mexico, but duties on cement from that country are more than 60%.
Imports of cement are needed to meet U.S. demand. Domestic cement production totaled 85 million tons during 2003, while domestic consumption was nearly 108 million tons.
Since U.S. producers are no longer losing sales because of imports, NAHB is telling lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the levies are no longer necessary because U.S. producers are no longer losing sales to imports. Because the U.S. is a net importer, domestic cement firms will continue to be producing at maximum effective capacity for the foreseeable future.
Even before this year’s unusually brutal hurricane season, the state builders association reported that local builders in Florida were seeing the demand for cement exceed supplies by as much as 20% while prices increased 12%. The state relies on imports for about 40% of the cement it uses annually. Builders now fear that the daunting repair and rebuilding projects that lie ahead will cause demand to soar and make the existing cement shortages even more severe.
Survey research by the Portland Cement Association indicates that cement demand in most states remains strong, that many producers currently hold lean inventories and the shortages that first impacted Florida and the Southeast this spring are now spread over 29 states.
“These factors, coupled with the curtailment in imported cement, have raised the likelihood of shortages,” the PCA stated.
For more information, e-mail Michael Strauss at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8252.
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