The timing of the UK Mineral Products Association's (MPA) latest call to arms makes one wonder how well the economic recovery is going in parts of Europe. The MPA has launched a document entitled 'Cementing the Future – Sustaining an Essential British Industry' to promote the UK cement industry. It is the MPA's job to beat the drum for the industries it represents so in this sense it should always be trying to raise the minerals sector's profile.
Yet as the UK economy starts to lumber out of the recession, a publication like this suggests that the challenges ahead of the industry are still large. MPA figures released in July 2013 showed that year-on-year growth in cement volumes hit a low of -10% in the second quarter of 2012 before rising to better (negative) rates to the first quarter of 2013. No data was available for the second quarter of 2013.
One of the MPA's recommendations is that the UK government does more to protect the main internationally-owned players from international trading markets. At least foreign-owned companies provide local jobs. The main thrust is to protect the industry from carbon taxation, ensuring better international competiveness. On the back of Cembureau's latest industry figures, chief executive Koen Coppenholle recommends much the same thing for Europe as a whole in his column in the September 2013 issue of Global Cement Magazine.
One thing the MPA doesn't need is more bad news when the UK Competition Commission publishes its report on an investigation on the aggregates, cement and ready-mix concrete market in December 2013. On that score the investigation hasn't been too troubling so far with its provisional findings concluding that despite poor competition between firms on price there was no explicit collusion.
In terms of competition though things could be worse. For example, take Colombia. In August 2013 the Colombian competition agency, the Superintendency of Industry and Commerce (SIC), announced its investigation in the country's main players for 'sustained and unjustified' increases in the price of cement since 2010. For the first six months of 2013 cement prices rose by 8% compared to an inflation rate of 1.73%.
Whatever is happening in Colombia, its largest cement producer, Cementos Argos, saw its profits rise by 5.9% to US$218m in 2012. At present the MPA can only dream of times like that again and hope that the UK government takes note of its advocacy.