In a major blow to the manufacturing industry, the finance ministry has imposed an anti-dumping duty on the use of caustic soda till 2013.
The duty will be levied on all imports originating from Saudi Arabia, Korea and the US. While the notification issued by the anti-dumping directorate has not spelt out the duty amount, it has clarified that it would be based on the reference rate which is around $400 and landed cost of the commodity.
Companies such as Hindustan Unilever, Procter & Gamble Hygiene and Health Care, Colgate-Palmolive, Godrej Consumers Products, Nirma, Reckitt Benckiser and Henkel SPIC (India) Ltd are some of the major consumers of caustic soda, besides the paper industry, textiles and pharma sector.
The decision of the Union finance ministry to impose an anti-dumping duty on imports of caustic soda, have failed to impress the domestic industry.
Caustic soda makers termed the quantum of duty “very low” against the already lower international prices, while consumer industries including soap makers, textiles and paper industry cried foul over the sudden spike in caustic soda prices in the domestic market, while import option will be more costly once the government decision comes into effect.
An official with one of the petrochemical companies said: “Caustic soda is a major chemical ingredient and domestic manufacturers have been suppressing a price rise for some time, since import was cheap. Many domestic manufacturers of this chemical refrained from a price rise, even at the cost of lower margins or loss and many industries have leaned down production. But now, with this anti-dumping duty, chemical manufacturers can increase prices which could trigger a price rise of its end products.”
Despite representations by domestic soap makers, including Hindustan Unilever, that their requirements are not met by supplies from domestic companies and they have to resort to imports, the anti-dumping directorate has advocated that the duty is required to provide level-playing field for domestic manufacturers vis- a vis imports.
Caustic soda is a soapy, strongly alkaline, odourless liquid widely used in paper, viscose yarn and staple fibre, aluminium, textiles, toilet and laundry soaps, detergents, dyestuffs, drugs and pharmaceuticals, vanaspati and petroleum refining industry, among others.
Caustic soda companies also see the size of the duty as lower than expected. “The imposition of duty on caustic soda imports is not going to benefit the domestic industry as the quantum of the duty seems to be very low. This duty fails to settle the prevailing disparity between international and domestic prices of caustic soda. Even after paying the duty, international prices would continue to remain lower,” said an industry source.
According to industry insiders, companies that are dependent on imported caustic soda may have to shell out more. Domestic supplies of caustic soda may also get costlier.
It is evident from the fact that soon after the imposition of the duty, the sentiments have already turned bullish as the prices of caustic soda in the domestic markets have started showing upward signs. In the past one week, caustic soda prices have jumped by Rs 3,000 t o Rs 4,000 per tonne.
Caustic soda liquid was priced in the range of Rs 28,000 to Rs 29,000 per tonne, while flax prices hovered around Rs 31,000 to 32,000 per tonne.
“Caustic soda prices have already started rising in the domestic market as a fallout of the imposition of import duty. But it is less likely that consumer industries would pass on this price hike to its finished products, because they are already faced with low demand. Rather they (consumer industry) are more likely to adopt a wait-and-watch strategy for prices to fluctuate,” said an Ahmedabad-based leading caustic soda trader.
But to some, the imposition of import duty may prove to be irrelevant. “We have our own caustic soda plant, with all the in-house raw material supplies available. Hence we do not depend on other companies for our requirements. So it is irrelevant to us if the anti-dumping duty stays or goes,” said a source at Nirma Limited, India’s largest detergent maker.
Meanwhile, sources from Tata Chemicals, India’s leading caustic soda maker, maintained that the imposition of duty would benefit the Indian caustic soda industry. “The move will surely help domestic manufacturers. Going forward, there could be some impact on prices as imports would get costlier,” said a company official, requesting anonymity.
The anti-dumping directorate was conducting a sunset review of the duty which had expired in 2008.
The initial appellants were Gujarat Alkalies & Chemicals Limited, Grasim Industries Limited , DCM Shriram Consolidated Limited, SIEL Industrial Complex and Bihar Caustic & Chemicals Limited
Later, the petition had been supported by a host of other companies, including Reliance Industries Limited, Kanoria Chemicals & Industries Limited, Gujarat Fluorochemicals Limited, Solaris Chemtech Limited, DCW Limited and Jayshree Chemicals Limited.
Officials said the views of all stakeholders, including importers were taken before the decision was made. Some of the major importers who have responded are National Aluminium Company (NALCO) and Hindusthan Level Ltd.
The anti-dumping duty on imports from Indonesia, European Union and Taiwan had been levied between 2006 and 2008. The directorate initiated a review of the duty in 2010 following representations from the industry.