Cement producers of the Caribbean

Cement producers of the Caribbean

The core of the Caribbean cement industry consists of the Dominican Republic (with 5.9Mt/yr in integrated capacity), Cuba (4.7Mt/yr) and Jamaica (3.5Mt/yr). Haiti and Trinidad & Tobago also command small, single integrated plants, while there are numerous grinding plants and cement terminals along the region’s extensive coastlines. The industry has been the subject of new commercial and capital expenditure-related announcements in the past fortnight. Regarding the Caribbean’s cement producers, these developments seem to lack a single clear direction.

Caribbean market leader Cemex revealed that it was considering selling up in the region’s largest market, the Dominican Republic, on 1 September 2023. Bloomberg cited unnamed sources stating that the Mexico-based cement giant hired financial services JPMorgan Chase to explore the possible divestment of local subsidiary Cemex Dominicana. Exactly one year had passed since Cemex completed its sale of Cemex Costa Rica and Cemex El Salvador to Guatemala-based Cementos Progreso for US$329m. Sources clued in on the latest development reportedly expect Cemex Dominicana to command a selling price three times greater than the Central American divestments combined.

Cemex has discussed its scattered disposal of global assets since 2019 as a strategic realignment towards its main markets, in particular those in North America and Europe. On this understanding, the Caribbean straddles an invisible line between Cemex’s strategic core in North America and Central America on its periphery.

Just to the north of the line lies Jamaica. There, Cemex subsidiary Caribbean Cement will expand its Rockfort cement plant by 30% to 1.3Mt/yr through a US$40m upgrade, scheduled for completion in early 2025. Late last week, Caribbean Cement told investors that the upgrade will equip the plant with new equipment, including a new dosing system. The producer expects this to help the Rockfort plant to further increase its alternative fuel (AF) substitution rate. It co-processed 5.6% AF in its kiln during the first half of 2023, more than double its first-half 2022 substitution rate of 2.7%. Caribbean Cement began exporting cement to Turks and Caicos on 16 September 2023, and plans to increase its shipments there and elsewhere. Managing director Yago Castro reassured Jamaicans that Caribbean Cement would also continue to help meet domestic demand.

Currently, Caribbean Cement and fellow Jamaican producer Cement Jamaica compete in the domestic market against imports, including some cement from Dominican Republic-based Domicem. This enters the country via Buying House Cement’s Montego Bay terminal. Montego Bay Cold Storage, an affiliate of Buying House Cement, shared plans for a second, US$8m cement terminal in the city earlier in 2023. The facility is expected to help meet growing demand from residential and hospitality sector construction.

More new production capacity is soon to come online in the form of a 1.23Mt/yr grinding plant in the Dominican Republic. Cemento PANAM will own and operate the plant, while Germany-based Gebr. Pfeiffer will supply a 3750 C-4 vertical roller mill via engineering, procurement and construction contractor CBMI Construction.

In a market where the nearest cement exporter is only a short sail over the horizon, producers have to compete fiercely for their market shares, even at home. Disputes over Caribbean Community member states’ rights to protect domestic cement production have gone as high as the Caribbean Court of Justice. It ended Barbados-based Rock Hard Cement’s hopes of resuming exports to Trinidad & Tobago last year.

The Caribbean’s cement producers will be acutely aware of Cementos Argos’ planned expansion of its north-facing Cartagena, Colombia, cement export facility, hot on the heels of a previous, US$42m expansion. The South American giant says that it is targeting the US, where it anticipates an upcoming construction boom. Caribbean countries present other possible markets for producers like Cementos Argos, yet their cement industries might equally emulate any successes it enjoys in the US. Like Argos in Colombia, Jamaica’s Caribbean Cement is part of a group with an existing presence in the US. Its on-going investments in the Rockfort plant signal a readiness to catch the trade winds rapidly picking up in the Caribbean.