Despite rising resin prices, India's plastics industry is in an upbeat mood after the heady growth rates posted in the past few years.
Gross domestic product grew 10.3 percent in the final quarter of 2004. This year, India's economic pundits have forecast GDP growth of 7 percent; Indian experts say the growth rate of the plastics industry will range between 10 and 12 percent. They base their judgment on the past two decades, in which the industry has grown nearly twice as fast as the national economy.
The plastics industry's buoyant mood is attributed partly to easing of fears that the new government would draw back from economic reform. In fact, the government has allowed foreign companies to set up subsidiaries and offices in India.
In the petrochemical business, a foreign company can have a 51 percent stake in a joint venture with an Indian partner. Foreign firms in processing and other downstream businesses can have 100 percent self-owned companies.
Some of the big-name polymer operations in India include BASF AG, Bayer AG and LG Chemical Ltd. Others, such as Clariant International Ltd., DuPont Co. and GE Advanced Materials, are engaged in compounding, while 3M Co. and Delphi Corp. are engaged in processing. Milacron Inc., Groupe Sidel and others have established themselves in plastic machinery.
Some foreign companies took the easy road to India by finding a business partner in a joint venture, but gradually excluded their Indian partner and took over the entire operations. Machino-Basell India Ltd., a compounder, and Mamta Brampton Engineering Pvt. Ltd., a machinery company, have pursued this strategy.
Lalit Shah, the managing director of Plastemart.com and an expert on India's plastics sector, said the country has about 20,000 processors, including 250 that account for about 40 percent of the nation's plastics throughput.
The majority of India's big plastics processors produce PVC pipe, biaxially oriented polypropylene and PET film, wire and cable, and PVC film. Some top players include two diversified manufacturers, Supreme Industries Ltd. and Neelkamal Plastics Ltd., along with Moser Baer India Ltd., which molds compact discs and DVDs.
Experts attribute the impressive growth of the plastics industry to the improved standard of living of the country's growing middle class. According to Plastemart.com, the wealthiest 35 percent of India's 1.1 billion residents have purchasing power on par with the entire population of the member countries of the European Union.
India is able to meet most of its resin demand domestically, and Shah expects the country to become a net exporter of raw materials by 2006, thanks to expanding production. But some imported materials face a 20 percent tariff. Shah said some 551 million pounds of polymers were imported last year. He expects tariffs to be reduced in two to three years.
Looking at per capita consumption, India uses about 8.8 pounds of plastics annually, and experts expect that to rise to about 15.5 pounds by 2010. That's below the U.S. per capita figure of about 110 pounds.
Total sales for India's plastics industry should reach $130 billion this year, including exports of about $1.25 billion.
India's plastics machine industry grew by 25 percent last year to reach sales of $200 million.
``India's automobile business is growing well. Hence, there is potential for good quality injection molders to grow in this sector. However, the existing technology level in the country needs to be upgraded if one is to cater to automobile application. This can be done only through a proper education program,'' said Prabodh Bolur, an expert in plastics machinery.
Bolur, who worked in an executive capacity with KlÃ¶ckner Windsor India Ltd., one of India's leading players in plastics machinery, wrote A Guide to Injection Moulding of Plastics. He envisions India becoming a global manufacturing center for machines and molds.
``Low wages can be the incentive for setting up a manufacturing base in India,'' he said.
The Indian government is promoting exports. According to Rajan Kalyanpur, the regional director of the Mumbai-based Plastics Export Promotion Council of India (Plexcouncil), China is India's biggest plastics trading partner.
``The other important markets for India are the U.S., the [United Arab Emirates], Turkey, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany and Saudi Arabia,'' he said.
``India's plastics exports have been posting a much higher growth rate than that of the country's overall exports,'' said Kalyanpur.
India's most important plastics exports are raw materials (PP, PET, polystyrene and polyethylene), polyester film, and molded products such as housewares.