CHICAGO (June 22, 11:35 a.m. EDT) — Serge Lavoie thinks the time is right for plastics trade groups in North America to forge closer links.
The North American Free Trade Agreement integrated the economies of the United States, Canada and Mexico, but the realities of national security and the world economy present challenges, according to the new president of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.
“Given how materials and products shift around [North America], maybe the associations should all work together,” Lavoie said in a pre-NPE interview.
He envisions a federation of North America's major plastics industry groups. Each group's main mandate would be to represent member interests, but the groups would work on common issues.
“It's a very fragmented market,” said Lavoie. “Some issues can be managed nationally, but some competitive issues — how goods move around and how to achieve a secure continental perimeter — might require cooperation.”
Lavoie, a 23-year association executive veteran, formally became CPIA president April 1, taking the reins of the Mississauga, Ontario, trade group from Pierre DuBois.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks shaped U.S. government concerns so deeply that all facets of society are affected. Security issues have crept into the world of commerce, Lavoie said. He cited as an example a U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposal to register packaging and food-processing plants and to monitor packaging material imports. North America's packaging and food industries are closely intertwined and any U.S. initiative would force Canadian and Mexican players to adjust.
CPIA has had good relations with the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington, the American Plastics Council in Arlington, Va., and other U.S. trade groups, Lavoie said, but “we need to deal with each other at a higher level and in a different way.”
Lavoie has floated the North American plastics federation proposal informally to U.S. groups and plans to bring it up with executives from Mexico's national plastics trade association, Anipac, during NPE week. He plans to make a more formal push at the August meeting in England of the Council of International Plastics Associations Directors.
Besides security, North America's industry faces challenges from migration of plastics and other manufacturing to offshore countries, especially to China. Industries in all three free-trade partners will need lots of government leadership to address the massive loss of jobs and production. Trade groups could play a role in convincing government of the importance of the plastics industry in the nations' economies.
Lavoie played down political irritants between Canada and the United States, classifying most of them as short-term problems that will be solved in government arenas.
One irritant was Canada's awkwardly stated refusal to support U.S. forces in Iraq, which bothered U.S. government officials and some U.S. citizens, Lavoie said.
“It could have been handled more diplomatically,” Lavoie said regarding posturing by Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chretien and other officials. “It was no time for brinkmanship.”
Many Canadian industrialists lamented Chretien's handling of Canada's stance, Lavoie said. Some plastics firms took their own initiatives to express moral support for U.S. war efforts to U.S. customers, affiliates and suppliers.
“We tell government [that] trade relations with the United States are very important,” Lavoie stressed.