The EPCA’s 37th Annual Meeting was held in Monte Carlo on 27 September - 1 October 2003. In his welcome address, EPCA President Rein Willems of Shell Chemicals pointed out that the number of paying delegates attending the meeting was the second highest ever at 1,375. In fact, the attendance this year was 2.5 per cent ahead of that at the 2002 Annual Meeting, a growth rate exactly the same as the one achieved by the European chemical industry over the past year.
Setting up the theme of this year’s meeting - “European Competitiveness” - Rein Willems said that this industry growth rate was relatively poor, as was the performance of chemical producers elsewhere in the world.
At each of the last two EPCA Annual Meetings, Rein Willems had mentioned to his audience that he was upbeat about the prospects for the year ahead. In the event, his forecasts turned out to be overly optimistic on both occasions, as the European chemical industry struggled to make headway against a background of a sluggish world economy and increasing competition from Asia, the Middle East and the US.
This year he told delegates, “While I am obliged to look on the bright side once again as regards prospects for 2004, unfortunately, the signs do not indicate that it will be “third time lucky”. When it comes to the US chemical industry performance next year, the signals are mixed but mostly positive. Asian chemical producers, too, appear to be coming out of the doldrums, led by the dynamic growth of the industry in China. In contrast, the consensus view is that Europe’s chemical production will be flat in 2004.”
Rein Willems concluded his introduction by stating that he hoped to be buoyed by the 2003 Annual Meeting presentations. If nothing else, the experts lined up to speak would be able to pinpoint where the weak spots were, thus enabling EPCA delegates to take away valuable lessons that would be helpful in efforts to minimise the effects of the downturn; bolster the competitive strength of the European industry; and speed its recovery.
Rein Willems handed over proceedings to Michael Buerk, the BBC TV news anchorman who has now provided sterling service as moderator at EPCA meetings for the past 10 years. Rein Willems said that in the chemical industry Michael is now known as a good friend of EPCA who moonlights at the BBC.