Recently, the cement sector has been in the news for its robust expansion – new plants are being setup and existing plants are increasing their capacity. The Pakistani cement sector has grown exponentially – having doubled its annual production capacity after every decade or even earlier. The fast growth has been driven by both public and private sector development in infrastructure and construction activities. The new opportunities in terms of CPEC, PM’s low-cost housing scheme, Mohmand Dam and Dasu dam bring further good tidings for the cement sector.

However, a few things need to be kept in mind associated with setting up any heavy industry in a developing country. Each cement factory needs billions of dollars of investment, much of which goes into the import of machinery; thus, each factory drains our meagre foreign exchange reserves. Since a developing country cannot manufacture or has little know-how of technologies in these technology-intensive industries, importing machinery is a sin we have to live with. But each factory entertains regular visits by foreign representatives of different equipment for periodic maintenance which involves regular import of spares, which is again a continuous drain on foreign exchange reserves of our country. Given the number of cement factories in our country, the government should encourage a policy for indigenisation of spares, and requisite manpower maybe trained against periodic maintenance/inspection required, for which foreign manpower is solicited. Mechanical and electronic components which could be indigenised should be identified in the first step, and the government could offer incentives in this regard. For instance, parent companies which provided cement plants to Pakistan may be encouraged to help local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) assimilate the technologies required to manufacture spares for the cement industry. This would create new jobs and save foreign exchange.

Furthermore, international firms providing cement factories to Pakistan also provide similar plants/technologies to countries in the Middle-East and Africa. Pakistan, with its indigenisation efforts, could become a source for spares and better value-added manpower to these countries as well.

Thus, there is a need to have a technological indigenisation policy which guides the local cement sector in engaging with domestic SMEs. A committee may be set up to identify components which could be progressively indigenised, and then a roadmap with a defined timeline and resources required to localise components may be outlined. Accordingly, metrics may be defined to review the performance of the roadmap, which should have in-built mechanisms to adjust to feedbacks and changing market scenarios.

Presently, Pakistan is a consumer-oriented society with an inclination to provide services. With a burgeoning trade deficit, depleting foreign reserves and shrinking industrial base, we should look for ways to diversify and deepen our technological base. And being part of original equipment manufacturers to cement and other heavy industries, our SMEs could learn to create and develop new technologies which could then be exploited in other industrial sectors as well. Such policies, with the patronage of the government, would help our local industry become technology intensive, stay competitive and create jobs for ever-increasing youth entering the job market.