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US Plastics Industry Reports Another Trade Surplus

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Mexico and Canada remain the US plastics industry’s largest export markets. Although the US plastics industry had a $13.7 billion deficit with China, resin exports recorded a $2.5 billion trade surplus.

The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) released its annual trade report, analyzing trade data from 2019 and the first six months of 2020. The 2020 Global Trends report paints a complex but promising portrait of the US plastics industry in the international market.

According to the report, Mexico and Canada remained the US plastics industry’s largest export markets. In 2019, the industry exported $15.3 billion to Mexico and $12.4 billion to Canada, maintaining its largest trade surplus — $9.8 billion — with Mexico.

“The 2020 Global Trends report shows that the US plastics industry is a major player in world trade, due to the versatility of the material and high demand for it,” said PLASTICS President and CEO Tony Radoszewski. “Exports generate jobs, and the US plastics industry continues to create jobs for the US economy. For the third year, our Global Plastics Ranking also provides insights for plastics companies exploring export market opportunities.”

Although the report found that the US plastics industry’s trade surplus decreased to $0.4 billion in 2019 from $0.5 billion in 2018, global plastics demand remains solid. The US plastics industry had a $13.7 billion deficit with China, the third largest export market. However, the United States had a $2.5 billion trade surplus with China with resin. China is the world’s largest resin buyer and a large importer of US-produced resins.

The 2020 Global Trends report also explores a broader international view of plastics, covering production, consumption, and more details of important trading partners. It also discusses apparent consumption, a broad measure of the domestic market size. Apparent consumption of plastic products in the United States grew 1.0% to $232.4 billion in 2019. However, due to US producer prices falling 1.5% in 2019, apparent consumption in plastics products grew 2.5%.

In 2019, total US plastics industry exports fell 2.9% and imports were 2.8% lower than in 2018.

“Against the backdrop of moderating global economic growth in 2018 and uncertainties related to tariffs and trade, the US plastics industry generated a trade surplus. Although US resin producers continued to enjoy a cost advantage over most foreign producers, US resin exports decreased 2.0% in dollar terms from 2018 to 2019,” noted PLASTICS Chief Economist Perc Pineda, PhD. “Lower trade figures are expected this year due mainly to the global economic slowdown, but the trade outlook for 2021 is positive.”

Canada and Mexico will continue to be the two largest export markets and are also the top sources of US plastics imports. The manufacturing sector’s supply chain in these countries was strengthened with the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The updated free trade pact, United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), should further enhance trade among the three countries.

The 2020 Global Trends report is available to download for free for members and is available for purchase to non-members at the PLASTICS website.

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