HOUSTON (April 24)—The economic slowdown will cause a 3.4-percent decline in rubber demand in North America this year compared with 2000, to 2.95 million metric tons, according to a joint report from the Rubber Manufacturers Association and the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers. The trade groups said consumption should bounce back after that, and average 1.6 percent growth through 2005. Synthetic rubber demand is expected to fall 2.3 percent this year, and natural rubber use will slump 7.4 percent, the report said. Last year rubber demand increased 2.5 percent, to 4.34 million tons. Only polybutadiene and thermoplastic elastomers are expected to show increases in demand this year among the major elastomers, growing 0.8 and 2 percent, respectively.