Expert's Opinion

Made in the PRC

By Rick Jezzi, Chemical Engineer | May 3, 2012

Jezzi offers his thoughts on Chinese exports to the US.

Some of you may remember Andy Rooney, who passed away last year after decades of appearing on “60 Minutes” with his special commentary.  I always marveled at how much insight he could provide in such a short period of time. Recently, I too am beginning to feel a Rooney-like irritation on various trivial subjects. For instance, I am starting a one-man boycott on Chinese imports. 
Products from China are becoming ubiquitous. Just last week as I was at my doctor’s office for an annual physical. I noticed a cardboard box with those flushable disposable toilet seat liners that we are all so familiar within public bathrooms. The box was printed with the label of the company, which now escapes me, and in fine print it was also stamped: Made in PRC.
My first reaction was what a clever marketing ploy this was, as I wondered how many Americans would know what and where “PRC” was. Unfortunately for those in the nonwoven industry, we are soon becoming more acquainted with our industry’s materials and converted products being made and imported from the People’s Republic of China.
Recently, upon reviewing the household wipes category in supermarkets in my area, I came to find many private label and branded (yes, branded) wipes that were made in China. This was upsetting to me, but not surprising considering that last year we benchmarked landed prices for three different Chinese nonwoven types (spunlace, SMMS and film-tissue-laminate) all at 30 percent or so less than current US prices for the same volume goods.
While visiting the UK last year, I noticed that Marks & Spencer wipes products were also all made in China. This is not just a US issue; it’s a global one affecting all mature market countries. With that much of a price difference, it is not surprising that companies go there for their products. 
Price is not the only driver for this migration toward Chinese products. The eagerness and rapidity of the Chinese companies at responding to new business opportunities, no matter how small, is also remarkable. On a recent project, I was assisting a small company to develop and manufacture a medical liner for a multi-patient medical prosthesis device. The liner volumes were small by US standards, and even though I personally knew many of the companies I canvassed, we were not able to find anyone who was really interested in supplying or making the product.  We were forced to source out of China even though we did not wish to do this from the onset. With NDA’s taking weeks if not months to get signed, and sampling of commodity nonwovens no different, it is not surprising that China was the leading country importing nonwovens into the US last year, with a 22% share of total imports.
Having established a baby diaper joint venture with a Chinese partner during my tenure with a previous employer, I have personal experience doing business in China. From the time we first shook their hands to the time the first diaper came off the converting line at a newly built plant in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, only 18 months had elapsed! As a result, I have never ceased to marvel at the extreme rapidity in growth of that country in just about anything they set out do.
Even though my wife gives me a hard time by accusing me of being a hypocrite for having established this joint venture, I remind her that the original objective was to sell baby diapers in the local market, and not export them back to the US. Although, I am sure some clever manager that would have followed me would eventually figure out they could save a couple bucks per case by importing the diapers at a later date.
Unfortunately, as many US roll good suppliers and converters shun the smaller project opportunities and continue to open the door for the Chinese companies to sell their goods, the volumes for these imports will continue to grow. What starts small usually tends to grow over time: the proverbial snowball rolling down the side of the hill. I do hope some of us begin to see the light and change our business practices before it gets too late.
I miss Andy Rooney; I wonder what else he might have said on this subject. He always voiced everyone’s concern about our changing and imperfect world.
Rick Jezzi is a chemical engineer and has experience in the areas of tissue manufacturing, nonwoven, and personal care absorbent products while at Scott Paper, Kimberly Clark and Paragon Trade Brands where he was involved in technical development and the expansion into Asia and Latin America.
He retired from Clopay Plastic Products Company as vice president of R&D and GM of South America and Asia Pacific. He managed technologies in Hygiene, Medical, Industrial and New Business Development, as well as managing global M&A and JV’s.   He now consults in the areas of his expertise.
A.D. “Rick” Jezzi

The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect views held by Nonwovens Industry.

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