Import of raw materials for the cement industry fell nearly 13 per cent year-on-year to Tk 6,481 crore in the fiscal year 2019-20 because of the stagnation in construction activities across the country after the Covid-19 outbreak.
Businesses brought in 18.6 million tonnes of cement clinker, granulated slag, limestone flux and gypsum in the last fiscal year, down from 20.99 million tonnes a year ago, according to the data of the Chattogram Custom House.
Most of the raw materials came through the Chattogram port from Thailand, Vietnam and China. The import of raw materials had been increasing at an average of 15-20 per cent per year for the last decade, but it fell for the first time last fiscal year.
Around 25 lakh bags of cement on an average were sold every day before the arrival of the coronavirus. The sales came down to 13 lakh bags in the last several months, said Alamgir Kabir, president of the Bangladesh Cement Manufacturers Association (BCMA).
Bangladeshi cement and construction industries have been directly and indirectly affected because of the shutdown imposed by the government to control the spread of the coronavirus, he said.
The association has urged the government to provide them with long-term loans, withdraw advance tax and give commission on letters of credit (L/C), to help the sector recover the losses.
Some 34 small and big companies have invested around Tk 50,000 crore in the country's cement sector. Together, they produce 33 million tonnes of cement worth Tk 20,000 crore every year.
"By fulfilling the country's annual cement demand of 30 million tonnes, we also export it to some countries. But still, we are not getting the benefits we expected from the government," said Amirul Islam, managing director of Premier Cement.
"The capitals of entrepreneurs in this sector are gradually running out. So, all kinds of discriminatory taxes have to be withdrawn to save this industry."
However, construction activities are slowly picking up the pace after the Eid-ul-Azha vacation, he said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, cement sales were down by about 90 per cent. But now it is slowly increasing. "Hopefully the situation will improve further in the next few weeks," Islam said.
Cement clinker is the second-highest customs duty earner for the country after high-speed diesel, according to an official of the Chattogram Customs House.
Around Tk 2,012 crore was collected as revenue from this product in the fiscal year 2018-19, which fell to Tk 1,810 crore in the last fiscal year. Some 13.20 million tonnes of cement raw materials worth Tk 5,625 crore were imported in fiscal 2014-15 and it rose to 17.40 million tonnes involving Tk 6,707 crore in 2015-16.