Perc Pineda, PhD

PLASTICS Chief Economist

Follow Perc on Twitter @percpineda

The World Trade Organization (WTO) suggests two possibilities for merchandise trade this year: “A relatively optimistic scenario is the volume of merchandise trade in 2020 would contract by 13%, and a pessimistic scenario in which trade would fall by 32%” according to a June 22 press release.

Whether we get a 13% or 32% drop in merchandise trade depends on many macroeconomic factors. There was no telling in June or August what the path of global economic recovery might be. In the U.S., however, data suggest a leveling-off of the economic downturn.

As far as the U.S. plastics industry, exports of plastics molds in June were 36% above June 2019. Imports were up 4.0% from a year ago. Both exports and imports of molds are back to pre COVID-19 levels. This could be an indication that demand at plastics processors has picked up in both domestic and export markets since the lockdowns in March.

While it appears the plastics molds trade this year could be different from the WTO’s merchandise forecast, exports for other plastics categories—resins, products, and machinery—are still below pre-COVID-19 levels. Exports of machinery, plastics products and resins were 9.4%, 14.1% and 20.1%, respectively, were lower in June this year than last.

However, comparing June to April—the weakest month of economic activity since the lockdowns—exports for machinery and plastics products increased by 4.8% and 9.3%, respectively. Over the same period, resin imports decreased by 4.2%. Year over year, imports of machinery and resins were down 12.7% and 23.1%, respectively, in June. Plastics products imports in June were 8.3% above June last year.

With the first half of the year behind us, the path ahead for global plastics trade remains unclear. A lot depends on the speed of global economic recovery. PLASTICS’ annual Global Trends Report, to be released at the 2020 Global Plastics Summit on October 21-23, explores these issues.

PLASTICS members may access full monthly data and a breakdown by mold types by countries of origin at our data page under Molds for Plastics Monthly Trade.