The lack of participation by more Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. members on foreign trade missions is puzzling given the international shape of the industry.
SPI, in cooperation with the Department of Commerce, has completed five such missions since 1994. A number of the 50 companies that have gone are repeat travelers. They know the value of meeting with plastics associations and government officials abroad.
The SPI groups aren't large, however, which helps explain why the organization now plans to review the program to determine whether it should be continued and how it might be improved.
Interested companies can help address the latter question with their direct feedback to SPI. The association's International Trade Advisory Committee will meet in early April to review the results of a membership survey addressing that issue.
The missions clearly are worth continuing, since they give U.S. firms a firsthand look at hot international markets for plastics. The explosion of activity in Asia-Pacific supports that assessment. Ironically, an SPI trade trip this spring to Vietnam was scrubbed because the United States had yet to install an ambassador.
More surprisingly, only a handful of North Americans attended ASEANplas, held Jan. 21-24 in Singapore.
The small North American turnout may be attributable to the upcoming NPE show in Chicago, an event organized by SPI.
That, however, doesn't explain the low level of interest for other trade trips. Yes, the missions carry a $4,000-$5,000 tour fee per country, plus travel expenses, plus the loss of key talent for 10 days or so. But the potential for new business opportunities, particularly under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement, offsets that significantly.
If the competition and marketplace are now global, as nearly every plastics company executive insists, those in the industry who don't go abroad seeking commerce face a growing risk of finding themselves home alone and short of business.