In what could be a breakthrough in a 16-year-long trade dispute, the U.S. and Mexico announced on Jan. 19 that they had reached an agreement in principle on levels of cement imports and duties on those shipments .

The Commerce Dept., which announced the development Jan. 19, said that if the two sides can strike a final deal, it wold extend for three years and cap imports of gray Portland cement from Mexico at 3 million metric tons to the U.S. southern tier. In 2005, U.S. imports of Mexican cement totaled 1.8 million metric tons.

Those shipments would be subject to an antidumping duty of $3 per metric ton. The current rate is $26.

Another provision would permit additional shipments of 200,000 metric tons if the U.S. President determines that a natural disaster would require such an increase.

There also would be "provisions which address the revocation of the antidumping duty order at the conclusion of the agreement," Commerce said.

It added that the two governments "continue to meet in the hope of concluding this agreement in the near future."

Commerce instituted an antidumping duty in 1990 on Mexican cement. On Jan. 12, the U.S. issued its most recent duty determination, setting a antidumping margin of 42.26%. That compares with a level of 55% the year before.