Lucky strike for imports to South Africa

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Pakistan's Lucky Cement received the 'all clear' for its cement imports from the South African regulators last week. The situation exposes the increasingly competitive market in the country after the South African Competition Commission cartel investigations in 2011.

Sales of Lucky Cement were originally shut down in 2011 due to accusations made by its competitors, including Pretoria Portland Cement (PPP) and Natal Portland Cement (NPC). They complained that Lucky was not complying with South African standards. South Africa's National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) then ran its independent investigation and released its results last week.

The regulator's full 28-day test found no evidence that Lucky Cement imports were non-compliant with regards to their quality. A minor infringement concerning underweight bags was found and fixed. However, about a week beforehand, Lafarge South Africa's CEO said that his company was considering approaching another trade body with concerns about 'low-quality cheap cement' imported from Pakistan.

More serious criticism came from the Cement and Concrete Institute when the NRCS admitted that it didn't know how much cement had been imported into South Africa so far in 2012. The NRCS is supposed to inspect and approve the testing bodies each producer and importer uses for every 500t of cement.

Lucky Cement has been a regular importer of cement to South Africa since 2009. It exports around 1.65Mt/yr to over 22 countries in South East Asia, the Middle East and Africa. CCI figures reckon that 140,000t of cement was imported to South Africa in the first quarter of 2012, mostly by Lucky Cement. According to the Global Cement Directory 2012 South Africa's capacity is around 11Mt/yr.

Four domestic producers – Lafarge, PPC, AfriSam and NPC – were accused of cartel activity by the South African Competition Commission, in a case that has been running since 2008. PPC confirmed the existence of the cartel, whilst Lafarge and AfriSam were fined US$19.6m and US$16m respectively.

By letting Lucky Cement resume the sale of its cement in South Africa, the NRCS has arguably done more than the Competition Commission to prevent cartel activity. With reports surfacing that other producers in Pakistan and India are considering exports to South Africa, domestic producers are going to have to become more inventive and more competitive.

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