CHICAGO - U.S. plastics companies can take advantage of significant new global markets regardless of their size, if they know their strengths, start small, and use the help provided by the industry and government. Those points were made in ``Taking Advantage of New Plastics Markets Under GATT and NAFTA,'' a conference at Plastics USA, held Sept. 12-14 in Chicago.
Conference attendees heard talks by Department of Commerce officials about services offered by the departments to U.S. companies that wish to do business overseas, and actual case histories from large and small companies that have both exported their products from this country and set up manufacturing businesses overseas.
``The creation of the World Trade Organization, as a result of the latest round of negotiations on [GATT] will have a dramatic effect on the ability of U.S. companies to export,'' said Kenley Tarter, International Trade specialist for DOC.
The WTO gives companies, for the first time, a source for trade organization and financing for business overseas, as well as furnishing credit and regulatory source information, and dispute-resolution services.
``A major difference with the WTO over the old GATT provisions was that under the old agreement, any member could block any agreement it did not like, but that is not possible now,'' he said.
In addition to the WTO, Tarter said the Commerce Department has a wide range of programs and services to assist U.S. firms overseas, including U.S. Export Assistance Centers in four cities, which function as ``one-stop'' export information clearinghouses. The centers are in Miami, Chicago, Long Beach, Calif., and Baltimore. Centers in Seattle, Cleveland and Dallas are due to open this fall, and centers in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Denver, Detroit, New Orleans, Philadelphia and St. Louis are planned.
At the centers, firms can get counseling on how to export their products, specific information about foreign markets, lists of qualified agents and lists of potential partners for either selling or joint ventures. Also available is information on financial sources, loans, tariffs, legal restrictions, working capital sources in other countries, long-term financing information through the Small Business Administration and credit insurance.
In some cases, the department also can arrange plant tours overseas, and provide facilities for meetings and translation services through its representatives in U.S. embassies.
``The department has identified what we call big emerging markets, where we are empha-sizing markets for U.S. goods and can provide specialized in-formation and assistance, as well as trade missions and other services,'' Tarter said.
``Plastics companies can do a great deal of work and save themselves a great deal of money by taking advantages of our services.'' he said.
Tim Stojka, president of Fast Heat Corp. of Elmhurst, Ill., told conferees how his hot-runner, heat-sensor and heat-control firm had managed to set up a presence in Asia with only a three-day visit to Singapore.
``We took advantage of the DOC, as well as information from the trade associations in Sin-gapore,'' he said.
``We were able to put together a five-point strategy for fast, low-cost penetration, interview 10 prospective agents and managerial candidates, speak with potential suppliers and customers, all in the three days. Mostly because we had done homework and had limited our focus on finding the right people.''
James Buonomo, vice president of Nypro Inc., a large injection molder in Clinton, Mass., said his firm grew from about $20 million in total sales in the 1960s to about $400 million today by expanding globally.
Nypro's strategy was to follow its customers overseas and to concentrate on supplying consistent products while making its plant as independent as possible while working within the local ways of doing business.
Peter Bemis, president of Bemis Manufacturing Co. of Sheboygan Falls, Wis., said exports made up about 18 percent of his firm's $160 million in annual sales, and the firm entered the export market when an opportunity came up to buy the distributor that had been distributing Bemis' products in England.
``One thing we have learned is that you can't force feed your products overseas,'' he said. ``You have to be flexible enough to learn the markets in the locale, and then design your products around what people will buy. Then you have to identify the human talent carefully that best fits with your company.''