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New Zealand's flexible plastic packaging industry is forecast to achieve an annual growth rate of 4 percent until 2000, says a new report by Australian research firm BIS Shrapnel Pty. Ltd. of Sydney.

The report, ``Packaging in New Zealand 1996-2000,'' said the growth of flexible plastic packaging far will exceed the modest growth of New Zea-land's overall packaging market, forecast to grow at 2.4 percent annually. The report's author, Sandro Mangosi, said flexible plastics will be used for an increasing number of packaging applications in New Zealand.

``As the New Zealand economy continues to develop, and further value-adding occurs in the manufacturing sector, packaging requirements will become more sophisticated,'' he said.

The increased sophistication will lead to growing interest in automation and mechanization in New Zealand's packaging industry, valued at NZ$1.7 billion (US$1.2 billion). The report said there is an increasing interchange of packaging products and technologies between Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand is Australia's largest plastic export market, accounting for 35 percent of Australia's plastic exports in 1995-96.

Mangosi said there is growing rationalization of packaging facilities between Australia and New Zealand.

``Major companies, particularly multinationals, increasingly look to New Zealand and Australia as one market,'' he said.

Melbourne-based Huntsman Chemical Co. Australia Ltd. and Dow Chemical (Australia) Ltd. were to merge their Australian and New Zealand polystyrene operations Jan. 1.

The joint venture covers the marketing and distribution of PS in Australia and New Zealand and aims to streamline and optimize both companies' regional operations.

Huntsman is managed by Huntsman Chemical Corp. of Salt Lake City. Dow is a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co. of Midland, Mich.