President Barack Obama isn't the only one enjoying the coffee and cigars of Cuba this week. The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Bill Carteaux also is visiting the island.
The plastics trade association's president and CEO said before he left for Havana that an SPI trade trip to Cuba could be in the offing this summer and he has since dropped a few hints on Twitter that this is only his first visit.
Using hashtags like #CubaVisit and #SPIinCuba — even if Carteaux's “cell phone doesn't work and wifi is spotty,” according to one of his tweets — SPI is looking for a clearer picture of the possibilities for the plastics industry in Cuba under newly normalizing relations.
The U.S. commercial and economic blockade on Cuba has been in place since 1960. While President Obama has been slowly easing travel restrictions since 2009, this week's trip has been more focused on changing the economic ties between the countries and normalizing diplomatic relations than ever before.
Economist Bill Wood says that the travel and tourism potential will be the first driver for a potential plastics industry in Cuba, and for U.S. plastics companies to begin selling their wares there.
Serving the tourists
"I would be very excited if it were me and I was manufacturing something. Having to serve tourists is going to be a great thing. Any time there's commerce, we know that plastics can't be far behind," Wood says. “We have now introduced the element of hope and that's always good for plastics.”
As an economist — and, like this reporter, an avid baseball fan — it's hard to not get excited about re-establishing U.S.-Cuba commerce and the potential for plastics there. But it's still too soon to get too excited, Wood says.
While there is likely to be pent-up demand for American products, Cuba is a relatively small market and one that has not yet developed the consumerist culture of the U.S. and its thirst for ever-new and disposable products — yet. Known for the fine art of keeping half-century-old classic American cars running, there is the potential for building a strong plastic recycling, reuse and repurposing market in Cuba, he says.
And when it comes to plastics and manufacturing? It comes back to the tourists, Wood says.
"Film and sheet, that's always a good start. And I see some potential for the blow molding guys down there, too, because there's going to be a need for a lot of bottles," he says. "But you know what they need the most? Water pipe. If you're building a hotel, you're going to need pipes. Venues for cruise ship tourists to visit? They need pipes. Infrastructure needs plastic, especially pipes."