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SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL — Top industry leaders of ALIPLAST, a new trade association covering plastics in all of Latin America, met March 19 at Brasilplast '97, where they pledged to help each member country prepare for global free trade.

Hector A. Mendez of Argentina's plastics association, called CAIP, was elected ALIPLAST president. He said he will serve a term of one year, with an option of a second year, to be approved by the board.

Mendez, interviewed at the trade show, said preparation for free trade is a top priority.

``The open market is sometimes dangerous, but it is the only street to take, I think,'' he said.

ALIPLAST wants the plastics industry to be represented as each Latin American country moves toward more-open borders.

Mendez is president of Contenedores Argentinos SA, a Buenos Aires injection molder that makes large containers and claims to have one of South America's largest presses, a 4,500-ton Triulzi from Italy.

Merheg Cachum, who heads Brazil's plastics processors association, ABIPLAST, was elected ALIPLAST's first vice president. Cachum, who owns a SÌo Paulo injection molding firm, Injetec Industria e Comercio de Plasticos Ltda., believes a free trade pact covering all the Americas is inevitable, but the countries need time to get ready.

``There are many countries that are not prepared for this new free trade market, and it's most important for us to make this integration. But this integration must be good for every country,'' he said.

Francesco Cecchetti, from Mexico's ANIPAC group, was named ALIPLAST's second vice president.

ALIPLAST's other directors are:

Carlos Garay Salamanca of ACOPLASTICOS in Colombia.

Ricardo Schwartz Racz of ASIPLA in Chile.

Felipe Costa von Buchwold of ASEPLAS in Ecuador.

Gustavo Volpe of CPIP in Paraguay.

Giancarlo Benfenati of SNI-Comit Plsticos in Peru.

Gualberto Rocco of AUIP in Uruguay.

Francisco Massott of AVIPLA In Venezuela.