Trade Development

EU27 chemicals trade surplus reaches a lower level in 2020

Extra-EU27 chemicals trade balance

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Trading chemicals around the world stimulates competition, provides incentive to develop new markets through innovation and stimulates production efficiency. Above all, it helps to improve the quality of human life.

A historically important player in the global chemical market, the EU27 chemical industry continues to benefit from trade opportunities. Both chemical exports and imports recorded a decrease in 2020 compared to 2019.

This analysis shows that in 2020, exports decreased faster than imports. Compared to 2019, the EU27 chemicals trade surplus with the rest of the world fell significantly from €43.7 billion in 2019 to €40.5 billion in 2020.

Open competition and open markets would help generate more trade and benefits for all partners and citizens. Trade agreements with key partners will enable our industry to enhance efficiency and better use our technical strengths.

Consumer chemicals and specialties account for more than 90% of EU27 trade surplus

Extra-EU27 chemicals trade flows by sector

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EU27 chemical industry exports reached €169.3 billion in 2020. Specialty chemicals is the largest exporting sector, accounting for one third of total EU27 chemical exports in 2020. Petrochemicals was the second largest exporting sector, contributing 25% of total EU27 chemical exports, followed by consumer chemicals and polymers (17% each). With 8%, basic inorganics was the smallest exporting sector.

EU27 chemical imports from the non-EU27 area reached €128.8 billion in 2020. Petrochemicals was the largest chemicals importer in 2020 (36%), followed by specialty chemicals and polymers, contributing 29% and 16% respectively. Basic inorganics accounted for 11% of total imports and, with 8%, consumer chemicals were the smallest importing sector.

Top 10 EU27 partners account for 70% of EU27 chemicals trade

EU27 chemicals trade* flows with top 10 partners

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Extra-EU27 chemicals trade flow, calculated as total exports plus imports, was valued at nearly €298.1 billion in 2020. The top 10 EU27 partners accounted for 70% of extra-EU27 chemicals trade in the same year.

The US was again the EU27’s biggest trading partner for chemicals in 2020. It bought €28.3 billion of EU27 exports, whilst accounting €22.5 billion of EU27 imports. It was responsible for 17.1% of total EU27 chemicals trade in 2020. Transatlantic trade flows are expected to change considerably in the coming years because the US shale gas boom has triggered a massive build-up of new US chemicals production capacity.

EU27 holds trade surplus with top competing markets

EU27 chemicals trade flows with major geographic blocs

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A look at the 2020 EU chemicals trade balance with key countries and regions shows:

  • Apart from China and Japan, the European Union has a trade surplus with all main trading regions – NAFTA, Latin America, Africa, and rest of Europe. The two major geographic blocs trading with the European Union in 2020 remained the rest of Europe (including UK) and North America.
  • The EU 27 generated its largest chemicals trade surplus with the rest of Europe, which covers UK, Turkey, Switzerland, Russia, Norway and Ukraine. The EU27 surplus with the rest of Europe amounted to €14.3 billion in 2020, to which specialty chemicals and consumer chemicals contributed significantly.
  • The EU27 generated a chemicals trade surplus of €5.8 billion with the United States. Petrochemicals contributed significantly to the total EU27 chemicals surplus with the USA.

This sector is sensitive to US shale gas development. The USA is the world’s biggest producer of bioethanol, making around 54% of world production in 2013.

  • The EU had a chemicals trade deficit with India, mainly reflecting the deficit that occurred in petrochemicals (€2.1 billion). India is the world’s second largest emerging market, and the EU27 is playing a key role in this transformation as India’s greatest source of foreign direct investment.
  • The EU had a chemicals trade deficit with Japan, mainly due to the deficit occurring in polymers (€0.9 billion) and specialty chemicals (€0.86 billion). The EU27 also had a chemicals trade deficit with South Korea, due to the deficit that appeared in polymers (€1.7 billion).

Consumer chemicals and specialties contribute most to EU27 chemicals trade surplus

Extra-EU27 chemicals trade balance by sector

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The EU27 chemicals trade surplus in 2020 reached €40.5 billion. 48% of it can be attributed to consumer chemicals.

Consumer chemicals generated the largest EU27 trade surplus compared to the other chemical sectors. Specialty chemicals have the second strongest external trade performance, followed by polymers.