Non-tariff barriers are much in the news today as countries make and break free trade areas. Paper is an internationally traded commodity, which generally attracts low or zero tariffs, but governments are constantly on the lookout for ways to get around trade agreements and fill the national coffers. Take Turkey, whose authorities have hit on a particularly ingenious strategy. Under the terms of its treaty with the European Union, Turkey grants “automatic import licenses” to imports of papers, including label papers. But now the Turkish authorities have decreed that if the price is below €1200 per ton, the importer must provide pages and pages of information, some of it confidential. Result number one: Turkish importers of paper now always declare a price of just over $1,200, whatever the real price paid. Results two and three: the Turkish government collects more in value added tax, and local paper producers are favored over foreign ones. At the request of the Confederation of European Paper Industries, the European Commission in July of this year launched an investigation against Turkey for breach of Customs Union rules. When and whether this will produce results is open to question, given the poor state of relations between Ankara and Brussels.
Stand by for another quantum leap
When Swiss company Graph-Tech AG was sold to Domino in 2012, the sale did not make headlines. When Italy’s Nuova Gidue was acquired by Bobst four years ago, it made a media splash but failed to move mountains. The birth of Mouvent, parented by Bobst and a company called Radex, has so far been given underwhelming media coverage. What brings these disparate facts together, you may ask? The answer is convoluted, but could just possibly affect the future of digital printing. These are the facts: narrow web press maker Nuova Gidue never went into digital printing. Bobst was also slow to adopt digital technology. Domino really got its narrow web inkjet program on the road after acquiring Graph-Tec AG. OK so far? Now wait for it. The same team of engineers who set up Graph-Tec and put Domino on the road to digital success is behind Radex, which today employs 80 and has brought its know-how into Mouvent, the new joint venture with Bobst. The “Mouvent Cluster Design” is at the heart of this digital technology. According to Piero Pierantozzi, ex-Radex, ex-Graph-Tec and co-founder of Mouvent, “The innovative cluster design is the base building block for all systems, current and in development. Our radical new approach is to use a base cluster, which is arranged in a modular, scalable matrix instead of having different print bars for different applications and different print widthw.” This snippet is more tantalizing than informative, but visitors to Labelexpo will be able to visit the Bobst booth and maybe find out more. The first label presses will be desktop models, according to Simon Rothen, CEO of Mouvent. The new joint venture will become the digital printing competence center and solutions provider of Bobst, whose CEO Jean-Pascal Bobst was the one who is promising us the “quantum leap.” We wait with bated breath.
Trade show visitors
What is happening with print and packaging trade shows in Europe? We should all now be facing the future at least with cautious optimism, but when we look (for example) at visitor numbers for the last four drupa shows, we see a 40% drop in numbers. That hurts. Last year, the Paris-based packaging show lost 7% of visitors compared with the previous event, and this year’s Interpack, in Dusseldorf, Germany, also saw visitor numbers fall, if only by 3%. It certainly seems to be the smaller, more focused shows that are succeeding. Pharmapack, now a global brand, is progressing. Local, no-frills exhibitions are also becoming popular in Europe. As for Labelexpo Europe, its visitor numbers never seem to stop growing. Yes, the organizers do a good job marketing the Brussels event, but is that the only reason? The Brussels Parc des Expositions wowed the crowds when it was built in 1935, but it has not always been fast in moving with the times. Your correspondent remembers the early days of Labelexpo Europe when 80% of the staff at the exhibition center could only speak French and the other 20% refused to speak anything but Flemish! (This has now changed.)
The Belgian capital, with its good communications, is clearly a plus, and hotels and restaurants are still both good and plentiful, though not as cheap as they were before Eurocrats started pushing prices up. Another plus is the absence of frontier controls within the Schengen Area (which includes 26 European countries and 420 million inhabitants), and the visa-free access enjoyed by many non-European citizens. However, the main reason for the continuing success of all the worldwide Labelexpo shows is the branding: it is a can’t-be-missed event where you can be sure to see all your suppliers and competitors. During the 2015 show, the organizers contemplated a move away from Brussels, although whether this was just a negotiating ploy was never known. At all events, the City Fathers have pulled out all the stops to smarten up the whole complex, with new connecting corridors and a lick of paint on the older and more lugubrious halls, some of which date back to the Brussels Great Exhibition of 1935. For a city proud of its cuisine, the Parc des Expositions never hit the gastronomical high spots, with overcrowded restaurants and inadequate snack bars. Now with 22 mostly brand-new franchises, the Parc will offer Labelexpo visitors vastly improved choices and hopefully zero lineups. Those interested in ancient history should look out for a large hole in Car Park C, where a recently unearthed archaeological site is being investigated.
The majority of visitors to Labelexpo are probably more interested in labels than in archaeology, and for them the Brussels show has plenty to occupy them during its four days. Exhibitors at the show are extensively previewed in this issue of L&NW, but there are some notable absentees. One of them is Xaar, probably the world’s leading manufacturer of inkjet printheads, and a regular Labelexpo exhibitor for many years. This is probably because Xaar, though big in the label world, is even bigger in providing printheads for the ceramics and textile businesses. Also because it supplies printheads to many of the digital press manufacturers who will be showing in Brussels, and licenses its know-how to companies like Seiko, Toshiba and Konica Minolta. And lastly – dare we say it? It’s hard to get excited about a black box scarcely bigger than a cigarette pack, even when you know it’s stuffed with electronic gadgetry.
A previous Narrow Web Europe news column reported on the mad things that people in the label business get up to, and noted how often these people seemed to be English. Now, to hammer home the nail, comes an account of how three cyclists from Herma UK crossed Northern England from coast to coast – 165 miles with a range of mountains in the way – for a charity challenge. At the watershed they stopped for a beer at “England’s highest pub.” Despite the absence of non-tariff barriers, we can be pretty sure it was an English beer.