WASHINGTON — A U.S. government-led plastics industry trade mission to Mexico planned for September has been canceled and another mission considered for Indonesia and Malaysia next year is not likely to go forward.
The lack of interest in the Mexican mission is prompting officials at the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., which organizes the events, to take another look at whether the trips are wanted or if they should be run differently.
``Maybe we just have to look at the whole program [of trade missions] and say, `Do we continue?''' said Lori Anderson, director of economic and international trade issues for Washington-based SPI. Anderson said she wants the trips to continue.
She said many companies expressed interest but few wanted to put down money to go to Mexico, the second-largest export market for U.S. plastics resins and products.
Organizers blame bad timing and a surging demand for products in the United States for canceling the mission, which had been planned for Sept. 7-11 in Mexico City and Monterrey. Only three companies signed up before organizers canceled it July 20.
The mission had been scheduled for the month before both the Plastics USA 98 show in Chicago and the K'98 show in Germany, and a month after a plastics show in Monterrey. Many people interested in international trade choose shows over missions because they know what to expect at a show, organizers said.
And, organizers said, a strong economy apparently leaves plastics manufacturers less hungry for overseas business.
``A lot of people are doing well in this economy, and while they might be interested in doing something overseas, they are making money now,'' said Kim Copperthite, international trade specialist in plastics for the U.S. Department of Commerce and a trip organizer. ``There is a lot of interest in Mexico but the timing just isn't right for people.''
The mission was planned for September to coincide with Mexico's Plastimagen show, but that show later was set for early 1999 after the mission was organized, she said. The industry wanted a trip to Mexico in the fall, and wound up with September dates because it had to be scheduled around other trade shows, industry events and staff time for local embassy officials, Anderson said.
The economic troubles and social unrest in Indonesia make a mission there unlikely, organizers said.
Since that trip and Mexico were the only two full-fledged trade missions SPI and the Commerce Department scheduled for plastics, officials say they want to take a look at how the missions could be revamped.
Several smaller-scale events have been successful, and they could provide models, Anderson said.
Trade officials have promoted plastics companies at shows in China and South Africa, and plan to do the same in Brazil in March, she said.
Organizers said they do not know what changes they might make to the full-scale missions, but said SPI may want to focus on domestic events promoting trade or plan smaller versions of trade missions, known as ``gold key'' programs, timed with shows. SPI's trade functions in the United States are well-attended, Anderson said.
SPI reviewed its trade mission policy in early 1997, after scrubbing planned missions to Vietnam and South Africa. After that review, SPI officials put more emphasis on cheaper alternatives such as the gold key programs and promoting firms at trade shows.
SPI organized five full-blown trade missions from 1994-96, but efforts to organize large-scale programs since then have run into problems.
Those gold keys offer one-on-one meetings with local firms and meetings with U.S. embassy officials, but lack the trade missions' formal briefings by embassy officials, local trade groups and receptions for building contacts, Copperthite said. Such receptions can be very important, Copperthite said.
The gold key programs also cost $350, compared with $2,900 for a full mission.