Housing-short Latin markets look good to Northwestern US plywood producers

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Plywood producers in the Northwest have a huge potential market in Latin America and the islands of the Caribbean, where a shortage of housing for 350 million people is chronic.

This outlook is encouraged by moderately rising exports of plywood to an area that is larger than Canada and the United States combined, and having 8 percent of the world's population living in 26 countries.

David Rogoway, director of information services for the American Plywood Association, is the spearhead of the association's drive to create new markets south of the border for US forest products. Recently returned from one of his regular visits to South America, he told the forestry section of the Association of Oregon Industries that ''the potential is there,'' but that to tap this long-term opportunity ''it will take a lot of hard work and commitment.''

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Mr. Rogoway told his audience, in fact, that the potential for sales in South American and Caribbean markets is greater than for similar sales in Japan.

But the market is not going to be developed without stiff competition, from West Germany, France, and Canada, for instance. Canada has already given Peru a Pay-back time is 50 years.

In Bolivia, Chile, and other Andean Pact nations the present shortage of housing units is ''at least'' 4.2 million, Mr. Rogoway said. In Chile 900,000 new housing units are planned to be built by 1990.

The opportunity to sell US plywood in Latin America reflects a growing realization in those countries that wood frame housing is better able to withstand earthquake damage, and that US technology successfully fights destruction by termites, a longtime problem in the region.

In selling the use of US plywood house framing, a major barrier is the negative attitude in Latin America toward wood for such construction because traditionally such wood-built housing has been what is termed ''Ranchitos'' - a name for temporary shantytown shacks.

For 1981, Rogoway noted, sales of US plywood in South America and the Caribbean totaled 32 million square feet, on a three-eighths-inch basis, while for only the first nine months of 1982 sales were 25 million square feet.

He warned one important thing to remember is that ''this is not one single market. It is more than 20 different markets, and each one is an individual market.''

It is true, however, there are tariff barriers to be faced, but always with the possibility for exemptions ''if the products are destined for special project programs such as social-interest housing,'' he added.

The plywood group has initiated a program of seminars in South America to acquaint engineers, architects, and contractors in the design and contruction of wood frame housing.

Mr. Rogoway optimistically predicted a pattern in South America similar to the growth in use of US plywood in Europe, where sales of 4.4 million square feet in 1964 rose to 487 million in 1981.

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