U.S. plastics industry trade improves in 2021 after 2020 pandemic slump

The Plastics Industry Association released its annual Global Trends report at the 27th Fakuma International trade fair for plastics processing. The report, which analyses trade data from all of 2020 and the first six months of 2021, paints a complex but promising portrait of the U.S. plastics industry in the international market.

For those around the world interested in the American plastics market, the global trends report and its accompanying dataset provides a comprehensive account of U.S. plastics exports to and imports from around the world in each of the four categories of the plastics industry – resin, products, machinery and moulds.

According to the report, Mexico and Canada remained the U.S. plastics industry’s largest export markets. In 2020, the industry exported $13.7 billion to Mexico and $11.7 billion to Canada, maintaining its largest trade surplus—$8.2 billion—with Mexico.

The coronavirus pandemic caused the merchandise trade to decline. In 2020, total U.S. plastics industry exports fell 8.2%, and imports were 1.8% above 2019.

The report found that the U.S. plastics industry had a trade deficit of $5.5 billion last year. For many years, the plastics industry enjoyed a trade surplus, which in 2019 was $727 million.  Last year, the U.S. had an $18.6 billion surplus in resin. The U.S. plastics industry had a $15.3 billion deficit with China—the third-largest export market of the U.S. plastics industry. However, the U.S. had a $3.0 billion trade surplus with China with resin. China is still the world’s largest resin buyer and a large importer of U.S.-produced resins.

The 2021 Global Trends report also explores a broader international view of plastics, covering production, consumption and more details of important trading partners for the U.S. It also discusses apparent consumption, a broad measure of the domestic market size. U.S. apparent consumption of plastic products fell marginally by 0.1% to $288.4 billion in 2020.

“Although the merchandise trade outlook is much brighter this year, uncertainties remain and depend largely on global economic recovery. While the U.S. plastics industry trade volume rose 27.9% in the first six months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, it still has a plastics trade deficit,” said PLASTICS Chief Economist Perc Pineda, PhD “The large and growing plastics industry outside the U.S. will continue to compete with the U.S. for overseas markets as well as for their own domestic markets.”

Canada and Mexico will continue to be the two largest export markets and are also the top sources of U.S. plastics imports. Proximity matters. 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, which is important particularly as global manufacturing is experiencing supply chain difficulties

The 2021 complete Global Trends report is available to download for free for members and is available for purchase to non-members here