In 1993, the Plasticos trade show in Mexico City attracted nearly 100 U.S. exhibitors. This month, the show drew just 30. The plunge speaks volumes about the plastics industry's change in attitude about sales opportunities in Mexico. Plasticos, sponsored by the Department of Commerce, is designed to introduce U.S. firms to the Mexican market.
The NAFTA debate was on the economic and political front burner in 1993, when the last Plasticos show was held in Mexico City. Small Mexican plastics processors were desperate for new equipment necessary to upgrade and take advantage of the free trade pact. And companies in the United States were keen to capitalize on opportunities in Mexico.
But the devaluation of the peso and resulting economic calamity has obviously dampened interest. Many of the small Mexican processors are gone, and those remaining must wrestle with high interest rates and rising costs, making it difficult to invest in new equipment.
On top of that, all of the business bankruptcies have swamped the market with used machinery.
So it is not surprising that many U.S. suppliers have turned their back on Mexico.
Smart U.S. suppliers, however, will keep their hand in Mexico. Despite the recession, the North American Free Trade Agreement offers long-term hope for Mexican processors.
And, despite the current economic meltdown, a neighboring nation larger than the combined populations of California, New York, Texas, Florida andIllinois is a market too big to ignore.
Recycling on the high seas
Put it down as the price of good public relations.
The U.S. Navy plans to spend $238 million to equip its surface ships with machines that shred, melt and sterilize plastic waste into 20-inch-diameter disks. The equipment was designed as an alternative to the current preferred plastics disposal method used during a six-month Navy cruise - you might call it ``polystyrene overboard.''
The plastic disks are stored until the ships return to port. Then it's off to Sharon, Tenn., where Earth Care Products of Tennessee Inc. performs preprocessing, and from there to Seaward International Inc. of Clearbrook, Va., to be used as cores in plastic pier pilings.
At least that was the plan. In practice, the Navy's 18- and 19-year-old sailors are putting ``kitchen knives, batteries, paper, food wastes ... anything that has some plastic component'' into the processors, making the disks poor candidates for recycling, according to a story in last week's Plastics News.
What's the next step? Fire the disks from the USS Iowa's 16-inch guns? Burn them as an alternative to nuclear fuel on the Enterprise?
A sensible solution would be a bit of additional on-board education to ensure a usable end product from the seaboard processors.