Cement and agriculture
Everybody needs cement, including agriculture. Without cement, agriculture will grind to a halt.
What will farm-to-market roads look like? There is now a policy of the Department of Agriculture that all such roads to be built in the future should be cement roads. This is because dirt and gravel roads disappear with floods, weather changes and simple wear and tear. Though more expensive in the short run, cement roads are cheaper in the long run because of lower maintenance costs, longer life spans, and greater stability.
The same is the case for cement-lined irrigation canals, structures to house agri-processing facilities and residences relying heavily on hollow blocks for farmers and fisherfolk.
How do the current issues on cement and cement smuggling affect our agricultural development?
Just as rice is essential to agriculture, cement is essential to infrastructure. If we have defective cement, we will have defective infrastructure. Cement smuggling is very detrimental. We not only forego the tax revenue that can be used for farm-to-market roads, irrigation, agricultural extension services and health and education benefits for our farmers and fisherfolk.
What is alarming is that smuggling also often means the entry of substandard cement. This is much more dangerous. It translates into not only loss of money, but more importantly, to loss of lives.
There is a proposed DTI order today that may also result in the loss of both money and lives. It states that pre-shipment inspection (PSI) will now be allowed. This means that instead of an imported product being inspected upon its arrival, it is inspected for value and quantity by a foreign entity in the foreign port where it comes from.
In the past, PSI was considered for use in our Bureau of Customs’ tariffication and valuation program. But in a letter of former Economic Planning Secretary Ciel Habito to Sen. Serge Osmena on Sept 28, 2015, he wrote: “Please note that apart from running counter to trade facilitation due to the added time and cost it imposes on trade transactions, the PSI is expressly prohibited in the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation (WTO-ATF: Article 10,Section 5). It would thus be an embarrassment for us to have it in our customs law.”
Though Habito’s PSI study focused mainly on tariffication and valuation, it is argued with much evidence that the limitations facing PSI also apply in the area of quality. This means much more danger to consumers.
In fact, here is one such problem identified in the website rtprime.com/post/5-common- problems- pre shipment- inspection):
“Conflict of Interest or Corruption: Even if you have paid for an inspection, there are a variety of other cases that can often be offered or ‘gifted’ to the inspector by the supplier. These can include travel, meals, entertainment, accommodation, and other out of pocket expenses. This ‘rockstar’ treatment can lead to divided interests when it comes to your inspection.”
For cement testing, all Asean countries insist on testing their imported cement at their own ports, instead of relying on PSI, except for Indonesia. But Indonesia is also unique in its policy of generally encouraging only manufacturers to import, which probably explains their different import policy. For the rest of Asean, where this does not happen, the concern for consumer safety requires them not to rely on a foreign entity who do the testing in a foreign land. They do it with their own officials, who test the imported cement upon entry to their shores.
There is a proposal today to abandon the current and Asean practice of testing cement upon entry and instead rely on the foreign-based PSI. This will bring much danger to our people.
Farmers, fisherfolk, and other stakeholders in agriculture development should not see this as a concern only of the construction sector. Smuggled cement with substandard quality, and cement tested with a method that is rejected by almost all Asean countries, significantly affects their welfare in very many ways. They should therefore act to prevent or minimize these twin dangers facing us today, if we hope to see a better future for agriculture in our country.
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