Cement Companies Face Cartel Allegations in Colombia

Holcim Colombia, Cementos Argos and Cemex Colombia are facing allegations of cartelization in Colombia’s cement market, reported local media outlets. If the evidence against the companies is found conclusive, they could be subject to fines of up to COP70 billion ($23.9 million) per infraction.

According to a report from the Delegate Superintendent for the Protection of Competition Jorge Enrique Sánchez, after a four-year investigation by the Superintendency of Industry and Commerce (SIC), it was found that between 2010 and 2012 “there was a uniform and coordinated increase in gray cement sales prices for these years.” The report also said that “during this period, the market shares of the respondents proved to be relatively stable.”

It was also reported that “between 2009 and 2012, while the total market volume of portland cement type 1 increased by about 23 percent, the real value of sales (i.e., discounting the inflationary effect) increased by about 36.8 percent for all market players.”

In a statement, Cementos Argos refuted the allegations saying the basis of the recommendation is unsound. “The report supports the recommendation in an alleged price parallelism between 2010 and 2012, assuming it was a conscious event. Alleging price parallelism considering a statistical analysis for 36 months, in a period of high demand growth and economic expansion, is not appropriate,” said Juan Esteban Calle, CEO of Cementos Argos. “The report mentions that prices showed a growing continuous trend during the expansive cycle, but the reality is that the cement prices, when analyzed in a longer period have increased less than inflation and the minimum wage. For example, 15 years ago a Colombian could purchase 18 cement bags with a minimum monthly wage, and today 35 bags can be afforded.”

Calle continued, “The alleged market allocation, which has not happened, is based, according to the report, on stable market shares from competitors during the analyzed period. Argos has presence throughout the country without limit or restriction, proudly serving millions of Colombians. Our markets share from 2010 to 2012 has experienced variations of over 200 basis points nationally and even more on a regional basis. If we analyze a longer period, in the past 10 years, the variation is more meaningful. In Argos, our market share passed from approximately 50 percent in 2007 to 43 percent year to date in 2017.”

Holcim Colombia said that the company complies with the rules of free competition, and reiterated “that at no time have we made any agreement with our competition.” The company also said it would continue to present strong arguments to the SIC.

Cemex said that it will file a petition for reinstatement if it is sanctioned.

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