There's still time to sign up for the plastics industry's trade mission to South America this fall, according to the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. The mission, co-sponsored by Washington-based SPI and the Department of Commerce, will accept as many as 17 companies in all, said Lori Anderson, SPI director of government affairs. So far 11 plastics companies plan to be part of the trip to Chile, Argentina and Brazil, which runs from Sept. 22-Oct. 2. A handful of others have expressed interest in going, but Anderson urges companies to reserve a place before July 31, since space is limited.
Thomas J. Schneider, president of Improved Blow Molding Equipment Co. Inc. of Bedford Park, Ill., will lead the group.
The tentative list of trade missionaries also includes Autojec-tors Inc. of Albion, Ind., which makes vertical-clamp injection presses; injection molder SPM Inc. of Anaheim, Calif.; Spirex Corp., a screw and barrel manufacturer in Youngstown, Ohio; Plas-Tool Co., a Niles, Ill., mold maker; McClarin Plastics Inc., a thermoformer in Hanover, Pa.; and resin supplier Eastman Chemical Co. of Kingsport, Tenn.
About half of Plas-Tool's business - mainly injection molds for pails, buckets and cans - is in Latin America, said John von Holdt Jr., president. The toolmaker was on the November plastics trade mission to China. As for this trip, the Brazilian market is Plas-Tool's primary interest, von Holdt said.
``We're already doing quite a bit of business in Chile and Argen-tina. But Brazil is a new one for us,'' he said.
Anderson said she thinks Chile is the most open and accessible of all three countries and she expects the United States to begin negotiating a free-trade agreement with that nation sometime next year. Canada currently is striking a trade deal with Chile, she said.
Companies such as Plas-Tool and Eastman, which is building a PET plant in Z rate, Argentina, already have a stake in South America. But some firms want to get a first foot in the door, to explore opportunities, Anderson said. Mission members fill out a detailed form to let the Commerce Department know what they want from the trip, such as hooking up with a distributor or setting up a plant. The department uses that information to set up ``matchmaker'' sessions with local companies.
The mission, which begins in Chile and ends in Brazil, also will include delegation banquets with local industry associations and government officials, U.S. Embassy briefings, and tours of local plants.
The sponsors are keeping the program broad-based, to satisfy the market needs of the entire plastics industry, she said. They estimate the mission's cost at about $4,500-$5,000 - but double that to cover the additional expenses of airfare, hotel accommodations and some meals, Anderson said.
The next trade delegation will head for Vietnam in the spring, although those plans are not firm, said Melissa Harrington, spokeswoman for the Commerce Depart-ment. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi was established earlier this year.
The trade mission is open to SPI members and nonmembers.
To receive an itinerary and reservation form, call (202) 371-9841, ext. 9007. For more information, contact Harrington at the Commerce Department at (202) 482-0131; or call SPI's Anderson at (202) 371-5281.