We’re getting a lot of plastic-cutting machines in the US.
And while we may be getting a fair share of these machines, the number of US-made machines in Canada is also increasing.
Canada is the only country to export a significant number of these plastic millers, according to data released last month by the National Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association.
Canada’s share of the world’s plastic mill production is just shy of half that of the US, according the US Department of Commerce.
It’s not surprising, then, that the country’s plastic-making machines are increasingly coming from China.
China has a long history of manufacturing and importing plastic, but its plastic-makers have increasingly moved to North America.
In 2013, Canada became the world leader in producing plastic-based products, but the share of its total plastic output rose only slightly, to 7.5 per cent from 7.1 per cent a year earlier.
This year, the share rose to 10 per cent.
Meanwhile, the US saw its share of plastic mill output decline from 13.1 to 11 per cent of the total.
While China’s plastic output is growing faster than the rest of the globe, its share in the world is shrinking.
“It’s very easy to see the growth in China,” says John Eppen, a senior vice-president at the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association.
“The other side of the trade barrier, the import-competitiveness barriers, are a big issue for Canada.”
Eppens thinks Canada will be able to get by with its low share of exports to the US by shifting its production to Canada.
“We’re a small country in terms of the size of the manufacturing sector,” he says.
“I think we can leverage that, and we’ll be able in the future to get our share of manufacturing from Canada.”
And, Eppes says, the trade barriers are also being put in place to ensure that Canadians get the best deal for their plastics.
The United States and Canada have been working to increase trade and investment in the plastic industry for some time.
Last year, President Donald Trump pledged to build a “global giant” to boost US-Canadian trade.
The US is Canada’s largest trading partner, but both countries have also been involved in negotiations to modernise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a deal signed in 1994.
The Canada-US trade deal was one of the main stumbling blocks in NAFTA talks, which were eventually concluded in Washington in 2017.
That deal allows goods and services from both countries to cross into each other’s markets and allows goods from one country to be exported to the other.
The agreement was the main reason Canada signed a trade deal with the US in 2017, and the US has been pressing Canada to honour its commitments under NAFTA.
“In terms of trade and trade agreements, we are working with the United States to ensure our own interests are served, and our own markets are served,” says Michael Sorensen, president of the Canadian Plastic Industry Association.
The trade barriers may be on the decline, but Canada has been slow to act.
The country’s plastics industry is one of only two in North America that has grown in the last decade, says Brian Wilson, president and CEO of the National Motor Vehicle Manufacturing Council, which represents manufacturers in Canada.
That’s largely because Canada has the highest price of plastic in the developed world, Wilson says.
For example, the United Kingdom’s plastic prices are more than twice as high as Canada’s.
“Canada is a very attractive place for us to manufacture our plastic,” says Wilson.
“There’s a lot we can do here.”
But while the number and volume of Canadian-made plastic products has increased, its quality is improving.
Plastic manufacturing companies are still struggling to maintain their quality standards and are increasingly turning to cheaper, less-efficient plastics.
While some of the cheaper plastics are less durable and more prone to breakdown, Wilson points out that the cheaper the plastic, the more likely it is to break.
“A lot of times, the quality of the plastic used in the product is going to be poor,” he said.
“This is a problem.”
It’s also a problem for manufacturers, who often struggle to keep up with demand.
“Our customers, the consumers, are not the ones paying for our products,” says Eppened.
“That’s why it’s difficult to keep production of our products going.”
While Canadian manufacturers are making their plastic, they’re also being encouraged to move production to other countries.
As a result, the industry has grown to about 50,000 jobs in Canada, up from around 35,000 in 2013.
That figure has now grown to more than 100,000, says Eippen.
In 2017, Canada’s plastic industry accounted for about 14 per cent to 15 per cent (or $1.2 billion to $1 billion) of the countrys GDP. In 2018