NEW ORLEANS — Eduardo Fernandez yearns to build an Internet plastic trading site that sells machinery, parts and resin for Latin American companies. He has the connections — his family owns both a Monterrey, Mexico-based plastic trash-bag extruder, Poly Ciclos SA de CV, and a nearby plastic recycling company. And he has a Spanish-language Web site ready to go and about to be introduced April 3 at the Argenplas trade show in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
But his company, Plasticomercio SA de CV, has one slight problem. Only about 19 percent of the people in Latin America have personal computers, Fernandez said. And few local businesses use them for trade, said Fernandez, president of Plasticomercio.
"Everything is new with the Internet in Mexico and Latin America," said Fernandez, who attended Plastics News' e-business briefing in New Orleans. "But it is starting to build. We want to be there first when it eventually opens up."
Fernandez's experience — and frustration at slow Internet growth — is shared by others outside the United States and Canada. While electronic commerce is gaining new adherents here almost as fast as computer chips absorb memory, the same cannot be said in both Latin America and Europe.
In southern Europe, e-commerce is not expected to have a great impact anytime soon, said Juan Bofill, manager of South American business development for Guala Closures SpA, a plastic packaging company in Alessandria, Italy.
Bofill, who also works with a Barcelona, Spain-based consulting firm, said the Internet is read about and discussed constantly among processors. But computers are mainly used for e-mail, he said.
Bofill did not expect widespread e-commerce to come to southern Europe for at least several years. In South America, where Bofill frequently travels, it could take even longer, he said.
"In the future, all these companies are thinking about what to do," said Bofill, who also attended the New Orleans conference. "It's important for us to be positioned in this area and try to be the first to do something when the time is right. There are a lot of behaviors that must be changed first here, though."
Eventually, Bofill would like to see his packaging company set up an online ordering system. He also believes a trading exchange could start up soon in Italy or Spain.
Other regions of Europe have not jumped on the bandwagon any faster. Most of the continent is at least two to three years behind the United States, said Peter Agnew, managing director of plastic consulting firm PEI Ltd. of Dundalk, Ireland.
Agnew works with processors and end users on purchasing practices in both the United Kingdom and Germany. He said that traditional business values there have been difficult to change.
Purchasing normally is conducted within small, regional areas instead of over the wider geographic swath that e-commerce can cover, he said.
"The biggest barrier is not language but culture," Agnew said. "About 80-85 percent of businesses are small and family-owned, and they are just so used to working within a 50-mile radius. It will take a long, long sell to convince people to move across borders or to another buying method."
Agnew said an initiative by Chicago-based trading exchange PlasticsNet.Com and others to start operations in Europe could be difficult.
"All I can say is God help them," Agnew said. "It's not as simple as everyone talks about. Besides, the Italians don't particularly like the French who don't particularly like the English. You have to break down the barriers before any business can be done."