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What will the Coronavirus mean for Pulp & Paper?
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Matters that drastically affect the economy often come suddenly and from seemingly out of nowhere. This has been the track record in the modern era for nearly 100 years.

The Chinese Coronavirus may just be one such event once again. It is already devastating the airline industry anytime one end of a flight is in China. What the ripple effect to the overall worldwide economy will be for this one sector's problems remains to be seen.

My thinking, and I emphasize this is my thinking, no one else's, centers around all the packaging that is involved in Chinese exports. If this contagion continues to grow, antiviral and antibacterial packaging may become a new class of packaging materials in high demand. In most cases, when such specialties are developed, they become a permanent part of the product materials chain. This is at least an area the chemical suppliers to the industry should be watching, for the packaging materials manufacturers will likely be looking in this direction for help.

Another area that could be affected is the process temperatures in manufacturing recycled products. Manufacturers may be asked or may seize on the opportunity to assure the purchasing public that their materials are processed at a high enough temperature to assure all living organisms are killed. This could be a new area of audit and certification for recycled products.

Then there is pulp and paper equipment purchased from China. Likely, companies are already making decisions about sending engineers to approve equipment erected in the shops. But what will be done about equipment being shipped in the future? How will suppliers assure customers it, or its shipping containers are not affected?

Finally, if this virus would cause a widespread effect on economies, anything is possible, from a simple lowering of demand to a significant change in corporate financing costs as a flight from stocks to bonds occurs.

From marketing to process design to fabrication to financing, pulp and paper companies need to be watching this unfolding situation carefully. Yes, the Coronavirus may have something for every department in a pulp and paper company.

Jim Thompson is CEO of Paperitalo Publications.

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