Chinese presenters stay away as Korean PU meeting opens
Busan, South Korea -- As some 160 delegates gathered for the first session at the second international polyurethane forum in Korea on Monday 31 May, they heard that the political situation between North and South Korea - following the alleged sinking in March of a South Korean navy ship by the North -- was having repercussions for the meeting.
China's Polyurethane Industry Association (CPUIA) told the Korean Polyurethane Society (KPUS) the day before the conference started, that speakers from China would not be coming to Korea as they could not get a permit to travel from the Chinese government.
But while delegates could not hear papers from China, there was plenty of information on South Korea, whose polyurethane sector saw a 7.6-percent drop in demand for isocyanates and polyols from 2008 to 2009, said D.M. Kim, BASF-Korea president, in his opening presentation on the outlook for the Korean PU sector. But, he pointed out, in early 2009 the PU industry in Korea had slumped by 20 percent, commenting that "government policy in Korea, aided by fast recovery in China," had a stimulating effect in raising sales and minimising the drop to below 8 percent.
Korea now expects economic growth of 5.2 percent in 2010, against an average of 3.5 percent for the rest of the world, "unless something unprecedented happens," Kim noted. The KPUS also puts polyurethane growth at 5.3 percent, giving rise to use of 448 kilotonnes of isocyanates and polyols this year, and putting PU growth "on the same level as the growth of the economy," Kim pointed out.
Vehicle production in South Korea this year will be close to the levels of 2008, and demand for PU in appliances will continue to rise, while use in liquid natural gas tankers, and in footwear may stumble and dip more, Kim added.
During the rest of the day, delegates heard a mix of presentations from around the world on topics including proactive issue management, product stewardship in spray foam, fire safety issues for rigid foam, process safety management in Korea, together with much coverage of the political issues and world economic, environmental, demographic and cultural megatrends affecting the PU sector and its global outlook.
In the afternoon session another aspect of the Korean PU world came to the fore - its extensive research and development activities, in many local universities, as speakers discussed, for example, tailoring PU-acrylate materials for better UV curing in coatings, and using "organified nanoclays" to raise PU's tensile properties threefold, among other presentations.
Over the course of the two-day meeting, three papers from China had been in the programme, giving some indication of how vital the market in China is to the export-driven Korean economy. The missing presentations included an analysis of opportunities for the polyurethanes sector in China's low-carbon economy, from the China Polyurethane Industry Association, plus a review of the outlook for MDI (methylene diphenyl diisocyanate) in the Chinese market from Yantai Wanhua Polyurethane Co. Ltd.
But despite this fallout from the political situation, Korean Polyurethane Society members that UTI spoke to were unconcerned, dismissing any idea of war between the North and South of the country. The concensus among delegates was that the current situation involves political posturing, possibly related to Korea's chairing of the G20 group of influential nations, which meets in November in Seoul.
PIC: D. M. Kim of BASF: 5 percent growth for Korea's PU sector in 2010.