The United States International Trade Commission (ITC) has decided to pursue its investigation into alleged dumping of the hydrocolloid ingredient purified carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) after an initial complaint by Aqualan, a division of the Hercules group.
Hercules, whose Aqualon brand of CMC is more commonly known as Blanose in the European market, claims that CMC producers from Finland, Mexico, the Netherlands and Sweden are allegedly selling their products in the US at less than the fair value (or dumping, as the practice is known).
CMC is a water-soluble polymer sourced from cellulose fibre which is used as a thickening agent, stabiliser, adhesion promoter and binder. As well as food products such as dressings, ice cream, baked goods, puddings and sauces, CMC is also found in personal care products such as toothpaste and in pharmaceuticals.
The a six-person panel of ITC commissioners carried out a preliminary investigation into Hercules' allegations back in June, and found that there was sufficient evidence to merit a further investigation, recommending that the US Department of Commerce carry out the probe.
Preliminary anti-dumping rulings by the USDC are expected on around 16 November.
The CMC market is dominated by a handful of companies. US group JM Huber is the market leader, with its Finland-based Noviant unit controlling around 30 per cent, and the group recently tightened its grip on supplies after acquiring control of CP Kelco last month from the investment bank Lehman Brothers.
Huber already had a 28 per cent in CP Kelco, which is also based in the US, acquiring it from Hercules back in January. Hercules had been expected to strengthen its position in CP Kelco - formed in September 2000 from Hercules' Food Gums division and the Kelco Biopolymers division of Monsanto Pharmacia - but has instead opted to sell its shares.
Nonetheless, Hercules continues to be a major player in the CMC market, adding the Chinese producer Quantum Hi-Tech to its portfolio back in 2003. China is widely regarded as the fastest growing market for cellulose ethers in the world, and is a platform for Hercules' growth in the Asia-Pacific region.
In its petition to the ITC, Hercules estimated that US imports of purified CMC from Finland were worth around $23.4 million in 2003, while imports from Mexico were $3.4 million, Dutch imports were $15.7 million and Swedish imports totalled around $4.7 million.
Other main CMC producers include Akzo Nobel, which owns the Akucell brand.