FocusFlu fears could hit travel to Asia’s top petchem gathering

05 May 2009 07:22  [Source: ICIS news]

By Steve Tan

SINGAPORE (ICIS news)--Attendance at the upcoming region’s largest industry gathering, the Asia Petrochemicals Industry Conference (APIC), could be hit by cancellations due to ongoing concerns about the global outbreak of the influenza virus A(H1N1), market sources said on Tuesday.

Several Japanese and Chinese firms have already indicated their plans to scrap travel to APIC, an annual event which would be held in Seoul on 14-15 May this year.

So far, there has been one confirmed case of the influenza A(H1N1) virus in South Korea according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“It is too risky, I would even want to avoid going to the airport entirely,” said a source with a Japanese oxo alcohols maker. The company had taken a corporate decision not to participate in APIC this year due to the outbreak of the disease. Other Japanese companies such as Mitsubishi Chemical, Mitsui Chemical, and Toyota-Tsusho were reported to be going ahead as planned so far, market sources said.

“Because of swine flu we cannot attend (APIC). It is very dangerous and China has so many people. We have a responsibility not to attend,” said a Shanghai-based olefins trader who was originally scheduled to attend meetings in Seoul with three other colleagues. He added that some of his Japanese business contacts, which he was due to meet in Seoul, were also re-considering their plans to attend the conference.

As the host country organiser, the Korea Petrochemical Industry Association (KPIA), issued a statement that they would be monitoring the situation closely, but the conference would go ahead as planned given that the case in South Korea appeared isolated and that the WHO had not issued any travel restrictions.

“KPIA is well aware of the fact that many concerns are being raised due to the outbreak of Influenza A, so called swine flu. However, please be advised that KPIA will be holding APIC 2009 as scheduled,” said spokesman Park Yoonsong.

The WHO has not advised any travel restrictions with regard to the influenza A(H1N1) virus and have indicated that such measures would “have very little effect” on stopping its spread.

Other member associations of the APIC gathering, such as the Singapore Chemical Industry Council Limited (SCIC), have taken the cue from the host country’s organiser and reiterated their official stance that the gathering would go ahead as planned, pending further notice. 

Despite reassurances, the number of cancellations however could increase as most companies have yet to decide on whether to continue with their participation at APIC. 

“I understand quite a few people are ready to cancel once it worsens,” said a Singapore-based olefins trader.

“Meetings scheduled for during the conference have meanwhile been put on hold,” a delegate from a Taiwanese petrochemical company said. He added that the company is now awaiting further advice from the Petrochemical Industry Association of Taiwan (PIAT) and would only able to confirm its participation at the end of the week.

Similarly, most participants spoken to in southeast Asia were keeping a close eye on latest developments and had adopted a wait-and-see stance.

“We are all going to die sometime so I'm not worried about that. I just do not want to be quarantined in some hospital,” said a source with Indonesian cracker operator Chandra Asri.

Most participants of previous APIC gatherings attend meetings at the sidelines of the conference and usually outnumber the official delegates. The event provides the best opportunity in the region for business networking.

Many regional participants had prioritised the APIC as the event to attend this year as they had cancelled others due to travel budget restrictions, market sources said.

Ng Hun Wei and Cheong Su Yeen have contributed to this story

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By: Steve Tan
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