Cement overload in Vietnam

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Last week we looked at the prospect of two new Angolan cement plants, a situation that will reportedly lead the country to being ‘self sufficient in cement.’ When we hear this phrase, very often from relatively small markets in Africa or Asia, the obvious next step invariably follows: The country in question will become a regional powerhouse for cement exports.

But try telling that to the desperate Vietnamese cement producers, swamped by chronic overcapacity and very low prices, both at home and abroad. In an effort to shift more of Vietnam’s cement mountain, this week the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) proposed big changes to its handling of cement exports. At the moment cement is subject to a 5% export tax and does not receive VAT refunds. This means that Vietnamese cement has become less competitive than Chinese, Thai, Indonesian and Japanese cement on the regional market, compounding the oversupply situation at home.

The MPI now proposes to scrap the tax and allow for VAT refunds to avoid a colossal 36-47Mt oversupply of cement by 2020. It is quite staggering that this response hasn’t been considered before. This is especially the case, given that the VICEM’s General Director Tran Viet Thang asked for the government to look at the rules back in February 2017. Indeed the Vietnam Cement Association predicted an oversupply of nearly 50Mt/yr by 2020 in January 2017.

Vietnam exported 14.7Mt of cement and clinker in 2016 according to its domestic statistics service. The country was the seventh largest exporter of cement and clinker in 2016 in value terms, with a total value of US$431.7m. China, as one might suspect, topped the list, but only at US$683.6m, around 58% more than Vietnam. Given that China’s cement capacity is around 20 times that of Vietnam, this highlights the extent to which Vietnam is trying to rely on imports.

A market-led response to this would be to close some of the cement plants down and stop commissioning any new ones. China has made some inroads into this approach and Vietnam is following suit… to some extent. That said, however, Trinh Dinh Dung, the Deputy Prime Minster, inaugurated the second production line at the Thanh Thang Cement plant on 4 July 2017 and Long Son Cement will open its second production line at Long Son in late August 2017. That new line will add nearly another 3Mt/yr of capacity to the national total just by itself. On top of this, Thai-owned Siam City Cement Vietnam opened a new ‘terminal’ in Vietnam in late June. Thailand ranked above Vietnam in the cement and clinker export list for 2016 at US$612.2m, suggesting that, contrary to the obvious implication, the port could even be used to ship out Thai exports into Vietnam!

This is not the first time we have heard about Vietnam’s massive cement surplus but it is the first time that the government appears to have registered it as needing attention. A market-led economy would simply shut the plants down but Vietnam plays by different rules. Will changing the rules on tax help it sell out its surplus? Call us in 2020…

Last modified on 26 July 2017

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