Cement manufacturer Lafarge is considering approaching the International Trade Administration Commission of SA to protect the local market from what it says is low-quality, cheap cement imported from Pakistan.
The world's largest manufacturer of cement is concerned that substandard products are being used for large infrastructure projects in SA, including the construction of hospitals, government housing and schools.
Some importers are labelling cement as flour to dodge quality tests and, when the regulators do test imported product, they refuse to disclose the outcome, citing confidentiality.
Lafarge SA CEO Thierry Legrand said yesterday that some cement sellers did not comply with the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications, yet had import licences.
"Imports are a concern for several reasons; sometimes the prices are very low, which affects us financially. We are looking at approaching the International Trade Administration Commission of SA to intervene in the market, but no decision has been made."
AfriSam CEO Stephan Olivier said there were systems in place to ensure customers were not exposed to inferior products. "There is substantial risk in the use of inferior products and (it) would be in the interest of all to avoid their sale," he said. "The system is based on self-regulation to an extent, and producers and traders need to take this matter seriously."
Pretoria Portland Cement executive Kevin Odendaal said his company wanted to know if there was policing of imported cement.
Last year three companies importing from Lucky Cement, Pakistan's biggest exporter of the material, were shut down.
Lucky Cement has a production capacity of 7,75-million tons a year, a large portion of which is exported worldwide.
Cement and Concrete Institute MD Bryan Perrie said yesterday that 140000 tons of cement were imported into SA in the first quarter of this year and that a substantial portion of it probably came from Lucky Cement.
"People have struggled to keep accurate import statistics of cement but we know that Lucky is a major importer. People bring cement in as flour, so the Statistics SA numbers of how much comes in is often incorrect," he said.
There were concerns that cement that lacked strength, and underweight packages were entering SA from Pakistan.
"Random testing on imported products show they often do not meet standards," Perrie said.
He said SA's control systems were not working properly.
"Cement is a compulsory standard. If you produce cement in SA, you have to have your own quality controls. You must also appoint a third party to assess you. Then, in terms of the standard, importers are intermediaries. They are supposed to have control testing and third-party testing too, but we are finding that the third party - often the South African Bureau of Standards - is doing both jobs."
Perrie said importers were supposed to test samples for every 500 tons, but when the institute asked the regulator about the results of the checks, they were told this was confidential.
He said the institute had asked the regulator to publish a list of cement importers online, recording which of their products had letters of authority, but this had not happened.
Mirriam Moswaane, of the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications, said quality and quantity tests were conducted regularly, and in the case of noncompliance, sale and further distribution would be stopped.
Source: Business Day