French-Swiss company wants to build Trump's Mexican wall

LafargeHolcim set to be among the bidders for the controversial concrete construction

10 March 2017
By Emily Commander

Controversy and politics never get in the way of a good business deal and they don’t come more controversial, or political, than Donald Trump’s planned border wall with Mexico.

Now. as bidding opens for contracts to build the wall, a major French-Swiss cement manufacturer is in the running for a share of the spoils. Eric Olsen, CEO of LafargeHolcim, told the German paper Handelsblatt that the company would “participate in all critical infrastructure projects in the US [including] the wall”.

Cement is so expensive to transport that it has a maximum range of 320 kilometres, and is for the most part locally supplied. With production sites and operations in three of the four US states bordering Mexico, and 6 million tonnes of spare US capacity, LafargeHolcim is well-placed to supply cement to the wall.

Competitors with existing capacity in the area are Mexican giant, Cemex, which, with six plants within range on either side of the border is the biggest player; US company Calportland, which has four; and Mexican Grupe Cementos de Chihuahua, with three.

In announcing a raft of major new infrastructure projects worth an estimated total of $1 trillion, President Trump emphasised the importance of bringing jobs to the US.

If it seems counterintuitive in such a context to award major contracts to foreign players, LafargeHolcim is making all the right noises and is expected to announce that it will scale up its US operations, creating an unspecified number of new jobs on American soil. Mr Olsen has cited the US as “the market where we see some of the highest growth potential in the next couple of years”.

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Some big international players in the construction industry have been quick to state their intention not to bid on the controversial project.

Others, including Irish company CRH, have said that they will not bid because they lack a regional presence. For LafargeHolcim, the 3,200 kilometres of wall is doubtless too tantalizing a prospect to dismiss out of hand. “We are here to supply our customer’s needs: we don’t have a political view on things,” said Mr Olsen.

That said, since the Handelsblatt interview, the company is giving no further comment.

Meanwhile, French President François Hollande advised LafargeHolcim to be cautious about its possible participation, saying: "I think that there are markets in which to be cautious before declaring one's candidacy."

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