No sophomore slump for Plastico Brasil

Brazil’s plastics industry seems to be having a moment. I don’t have any hard numbers to throw out, but having just returned from Plastico Brasil 2019 in Sao Paulo, I can say this much: Business optimism is palpable. The plastics professionals I spoke with at the event were uniformly bullish on the country’s economic outlook even as they went to great lengths to put some distance between the business-friendly overtures of recently elected President Jair Bolsanaro and his political and cultural predilections.

Dubbed the “Trump of the topics,” Bolsanaro wants to unshackle Brazil’s business community through wide-ranging reforms that tackle everything from corporate taxes to retirement benefits. In fact, the impact of Bolsanaro’s agenda on the business environment came up early during Plastico Brasil’s opening ceremony.

Joao Carlos Marchesan
João Carlos Marchesan, Board President of the Brazilian Machinery and Equipment Builder's Association ABIMAQ, welcomed exhibitors and attendees to Plastico Brasil.

João Carlos Marchesan, Board President of the Brazilian Machinery and Equipment Builder's Association ABIMAQ, enthusiastically welcomed exhibitors and attendees, pointing to a sense of economic renewal. Shortly following his speech, he and a delegation left the podium to meet with the Bolsanaro administration in Brasilia, the nation’s capital. He carried with him a study that ABIMAQ commissioned on the value manufacturing brings to the economy as a whole. There was plenty of evidence for that on the show floor itself.

A biennial event, Plastico Brasil made its debut at the Sao Paulo Expo exhibition center in 2017. Well before opening its doors on March 25 for a five-day run, the sophomore edition of the event could lay claim to some bragging rights: International exhibitor representation showed significant growth, with 69 companies from 13 countries seeking to build relationships with Brazilian buyers. The amount of exhibition space occupied by foreign companies nearly doubled compared with the 2017 show. Much of that space was taken up by machinery makers, including Arburg, Wittmann Battenfeld and Engel. (For a summary of what injection molding machine makers were featuring at their stands, read "The rise of the machines at Plastico Brasil.") More than 600 brands exhibited in total, making it the largest plastics processing event in Latin America, according to show organizers.

By and large, equipment sellers were in a chirpy mood. Many of them told me that there is pent-up demand for new machinery among plastics processors in Brazil. “The average injection molding machine in Brazil is 15 years old,” said William dos Reis, Vice President and Service Director for plastics processing machines at Romi, a supplier of injection and blowmolding equipment and machine tools headquartered in Santa Barbara d’Oeste, Brazil. Founded in 1930, the company operates 11 factories, nine in Brazil and two in Germany. He is cautiously optimistic about the national economy—“we have seen some changes for the better following the election,” said dos Reis—but he is waiting to “see if that trend has traction.”

Romi at Plastico Brasil
All roads lead to Romi. The Brazilian maker of injection and blowmolding equipment and machine tools staked out a central location at Plastico Brasil 2019.

Providing some context, Gino Paulucci Junior, Director of flexible plastic packaging equipment company Polimaquinas and a Vice President at ABIMAQ, shared some statistics. “In 2018, the overall economy grew 1.1% while the machinery sector achieved 7% growth and plastics machinery increased 20%.” This year, he added, is poised to match, if not exceed, those numbers.

The confluence of an aging machine base and a rebounding economy had the expected effect on attendance at Plastico Brasil. Approximately 45,000 qualified attendees were at the five-day show, representing an increase of 15% over the 2017 event, according to Liliane Bortoluci, Portfolio Director at Informa Exhibitions, which organized the event initiated by ABIMAQ, which represents about 7,500 industrial machinery companies, and the national association of the chemicals industry ABIQUIM. “Most notably, exhibitors felt that confidence levels have increased within the industry and the attendees visited the exhibition looking to invest in new projects and in new technologies,” added Bortoluci. “Our exhibitors also felt a significant increase in the international visitation, especially from buyers from other Latin American countries.”

Echoing comments I heard throughout the show, Bortoluci noted a “very positive attitude about the business outlook for the rest of the year in Brazil.”

Will all of that positivity have traction going forward, as dos Reis wondered? We will find out, when Plastico Brasil returns to Sao Paulo on March 15 to 19 in 2021.

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