Talk about role reversal — a couple years ago, Mexico wallowed in a post-devaluation funk, while Asia shone brightly as the land of milk, honey and endless potential profits.
Earlier this month, 20 Taiwanese plastics companies trekked to the Plastimagen trade fair in Mexico City in search of business, since their home markets have gone in the dumper.
Few plastics shows in recent memory have been as buoyant and optimistic as the just-concluded Plastimagen '99. We expected the market to be much-improved since its depths of 1995, or even from the last Plastimagen in September 1997, but few expected what several exhibitors said was ``best plastics show in Mexico ever.''
When was the last time you heard an exhibitor utter these words: ``It's a shame we don't have another two or three days of the show''? But that is exactly what Hector Sosa, president and owner of Plastec U.S.A., Miami-based sales agents for Milacron Inc., and several other equipment suppliers, said late on Plastimagen's last day, when the aisles were packed at 8 p.m. on a Friday.
The 450 exhibitors, 172,000 square feet of exhibition space, and an estimated 22,000 attendees (nearly a quarter more than predicted) all set records for this 10th edition of Plastimagen.
The upbeat atmosphere was like a breath of fresh air in one of the world's most-polluted cities.
Oh sure, there still were typical problems. One machinery exhibitor complained of electrical connection problems and moaned that the organizers never learn, but then added that the event has improved with each presentation. A storm's high winds knocked out the 220-volt power lines on Thursday afternoon, dimming many booths and temporarily silencing several machines before backup generators eventually fired up. And this publication's 22 boxes of issues were offloaded at the Mexico City airport, but in the course of a week never made it the few miles to the exhibition.
The show's venue — the Palacio de los Deportes, or Sports Palace — is a lousy place for an expo, though the event's organizers did a good job of making the best of two available exhibition halls and the domed, circular arena.
And the city's oppressive threat of crime also was ever-present, as evidenced by the fact that three armed men robbed and carjacked (but thankfully did not hurt) industry consultant Ricardo Ricardez on his way home one night during show week.
Such is life in Mexico.
Still, most signs there point up. The country's automotive and PET bottle markets both are booming. Mexican per-capita plastics consumption jumped 11 percent last year, and one industry consultant, Eduardo de la Tijera of Grupo Texne, predicts the domestic plastics industry will grow a further 6 percent in 1999, nearly double the projected gross national product growth.
Concerns include continuing tight credit, economic troubles in Brazil and Asia, weak Mexican exports and the inevitable domestic slump that accompanies the end of each six-year Mexican political administration.
Some, fearing another peso devaluation when presidential elections roll around in 2000, counsel caution. Their words would be well to heed. But, even so, it's refreshing once again to be able to look forward with some justified optimism to manana.