No relaxation of tile import restrictions : Minister

By Sarah Hannan

State Minister of Rural Housing and Construction, and Building Material Industries Indika Anurudda Herath said that no decision has been taken to relax the import restriction placed on tiles and ceramic ware, as local manufactures already have sufficient stocks.

“The President is only going to consider the requests made for building materials that are in short supply in the country at the moment, and will give directives to import such material. At present, we have sufficient tile and ceramic products to supply the country’s requirement. We will first give priority to the stocks that are made available by the local manufacturers,” Herath told The Sunday Morning.

Meanwhile, local tile manufacturing companies urged the Government to not give in to the requests of the tile importers to relax import restrictions given the present economic climate.

Royal Ceramics Lanka PLC Director Tharana Thoradeniya, who is also a member of the Sri Lanka Ceramics and Glass Council, told The Sunday Morning: “We commend the decision the Government has currently taken to restrict imports. Prior to Covid-19, our local manufacturers faced quite a challenge in moving their products. Our products had to compete with the cheap prices that these imported tiles were marked up against. However, they lacked quality.”

He added that Sri Lanka has the workforce and the capacity to fulfil the country’s requirement of tiles with three local large-scale manufacturers that have a combined annual production capacity of 17 million sq. m.

Thoradeniya reiterated that at present, the three manufacturers employ over 5,000 Sri Lankans, which is further strengthened with the local industry’s commitment to expanding its production capacity – three million sq. m. was added last year.

“The local industry is well equipped with the latest manufacturing technology that’s among the best in the world, capable of producing any high-quality tile across a range of different sizes, surface finishes, and variations that are on par with global leaders of the industry,” Thoradeniya explained.

He stressed that an approximate stock build-up of over five million sq. m. is held at their stores due to declining projects and should the import restrictions be sustained, it would help to safeguard the local tile industry during these trying times.

Meanwhile, the Tile and Sanitaryware Importers Association (TSIA) has requested the Government to reconsider and lift the temporary suspension imposed on imports of tiles and sanitaryware, claiming that they only service 50% of the market share at present.

TSIA President Kamil Hussain, speaking to The Sunday Morning, said: “The local production is unable to meet the market demand and has not only set the prices higher but also had an adverse impact on the construction industry as well as domestic consumers when it comes to meeting project deadlines.”

Hussain also pointed out that local manufacturers are given preferential treatment in government tenders, allowing them to unfairly take advantage of a biased system.

TSIA members claim to occupy an average warehousing space of two million sq. ft. and approximately 200,000 sq. ft. of showroom retail space, thus contributing to the real estate revenues in the country.