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Interview with Mr. Pablo Valenzuela, President of ALAFAR & UNITECR 2017

Mr. Pablo Valenzuela, President of ALAFAR & UNITECR 2017

Refwin: First of all, could you kindly introduce the situation of Latin American refractories industry in 2016?

Mr. Pablo Valenzuela: Many people in the world tend to think on Latin America as unit, but it is not. Each country in the region has a very different situation. From countries like Perú where the GDP growth has been  close to 6% in the last decade to countries like Venezuela where all production activities are almost dead because of populist governments. In ALAFAR (Latin American Association of Refractories Manufacturers), we have 9 countries with 33 manufacturing operations with an installed capacity 800 thousand tons per year. The most important because of their size is Brazil with 8 companies, 4 of them with international operations. Next comes Mexico with 13 companies, 5 of them with international operations and Argentina with 4 companies. The most important International players in the region are Magnesita, RHI, Vesuvius and Morgan group. Imports from outside the region are close to 60 thousand tons per year in bricks and 40 thousand tons in specialties.


Refwin: Accoring to WSA, annual crude steel production for South America was 39.2 Mt in 2016, a decrease of -10.6% on 2015. How do you view this and what was the effect on refractories players? 

Mr. Pablo Valenzuela: Once again, the situation and reasons under them are quite different. Brazil the biggest producer in the region, had a drop of 9.2% impacted by a general slowdown of its economy due mainly because of political factors, specially a corruption network that has implicated many of their political leaders, plus a drop in price of the oil and iron ore in the past years. We believe that it will take some time but the country will emerge from this crisis much stronger. Mexico, on the other hand, has been growing steadily the last years, with an increase of 4.3%. Currently, recently elected President Trump has generated a lot of uncertainties regarding trade agreements that may had a negative impact on the Mexican market. Nevertheless, we believe the counterweight of the different institutions in the US will smoothen this effect. Finally, Argentina has gone through an adjustment process in its economy with a decrease of 17.9 % on its annual crude production. In general, our vision for the region is optimistic, with the exception of Venezuela and Chile.

Being Latin America a net exporter of raw materials, all refractory manufacturers have been impacted by the collapse of the commodities prices and now are fighting to survive in all this turbulences. The ones that succeed on this challenging times will have a much smooth future. 


Refwin: During the recent years, more and more refractories players started to buy or merge with other refractories company. What is your opinion on this trend for next years? 

Mr. Pablo Valenzuela: It is well known that RHI – Magnesita merger will change the market. The new colossal company that will be created by this merger, will create a new set of rules in the world market. We believe this trend will force many mid size companies to merge or be acquired by other players. Probably, companies that are small, flexible and local will endure this new state of things, but we all have to be prepared for the changes that are coming.


Refwin: As we know, UNITECR 2017 will be held 26 to 30 Sep 2017 in Santiago, Chile. What will be the focus for this congress, and what we can expect from it? 

Mr. Pablo Valenzuela: The Organizing Committee of UNITECR 2017 has been enthusiastically working for more than a year to provide the best congress for refractory specialists from around the world, not only in the technical program but also in the social side of the meeting.

Actually, UNITECR 2017 will start the 26 of September with a get-together cocktail in the evening.

We have received 240 abstracts on the following topics:

·         Basic Science

·         Cement and Lime

·         Education

·         Energy Saving and Insulation

·         Environmental and Recycling

·         Glass

·         Manufacturing, Installation and Equipment

·         Monolithics for Various Applications

·         Nonferrous Metallurgy

·         Petrochemical

·         Raw Materials

·         Steelmaking: Continuous Casting

·         Steelmaking: Blast Furnaces and Coke Ovens

·         Steelmaking: Steel Ladles and Secondary - Metallurgy

·         Steelmaking: BOF

·         Testing of Refractories

·         Other Industries

The Technical Committee under the guidance of Technical Program Chair, Paschoal Bonadia Neto from Magnesita S.A., are evaluating each of the papers to have the best of them selected for the oral presentations. Our main goal has been the quality and novelty over the quantity of the papers presented in the congress.

We expect to present fewer but higher quality papers in a conference where the social program with our local Latin flavor will increase the networking opportunities with global representatives from the entire technical refractory supply chain. You will learn about the latest application designs, manufacturing processes, and current trends, so you can manage cost and performance and gain comprehensive insights into the latest technologies and materials.


Refwin:  Thank you for talking to us, and wish a great success for the coming UNITECR 2017.

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