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China’s polymer imports renew records in Jan-Aug despite concerns over economy, trade war

by Başak Ceylan - bceylan@chemorbis.com
by Esra Ersöz - eersoz@chemorbis.com
  • 01/10/2019 (04:18)
Between January and August, China’s cumulative polymer imports increased by over 13% from the same period of last year, remaining on track to hit the highest annual import volumes since ChemOrbis started collecting data in 2000.

The double-digit gains in polymer imports came even though China’s industrial production growth, an important indicator for its economy, slumped to weakest rate in over 17 years in August amid its tense trade relationship with the US.

Will China end 2019 with a new yearly record, as well?

Looking at its performance in the first 8 months of the year, the answer is a highly likely, yes. Although PP and PVC imports do not show a substantial increase given the domestic capacities, PE imports continue to grow steadily with mainly Saudi Arabia, Iran and Thailand gearing up to fill the conspicuous absence of the US.

Imports may somewhat falter in September and October due to the supply disruptions from Saudi Arabia and the Golden Week holiday in China; however, buying appetite of China may remain in place to finish the year with a renewed record in imports in spite of persisting concerns over economy and long-lasting trade dispute with the US.

Saudi Arabia remains as China’s largest polymer supplier

During the first eight months of the year, China imported the most volume of polymers from Saudi Arabia. Imports from the country jumped almost 23% on a yearly basis, taking China’s imports from Saudi Arabia to nearly 3 million tons. The other producers in the top three, South Korea and Iran, showed year-on-year increases of 3% and 23% in polymer imports to China.

Imports from the US, a modern-day economic rival of China, declined by almost 30% over the same period of last year.

US share in China’s import HDPE market poised to be non-existent

HDPE imports from the US declined over 80% from a year earlier period, during which an additional 25% tariff was imposed on US-made HDPE, dramatically narrowing the US-to-China arbitrage.

In the January-August period of 2019, HDPE imports from the country represented about 1% of China’s total HDPE imports, compared to the US contribution of about 7% of total HDPE imports in the same period of 2018.

Saudi Arabia raises HDPE market share by 31% y-o-y

Despite a fall in the HDPE imports from the US, China’s January-August imports for this product rose 16% year-on-year and hit a record high .

On a country basis, China imported the largest volume of HDPE from Saudi Arabia, followed by Iran and the UAE. Upon the disappearance of US, Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively raised their market share by 31% and 25%.

LLDPE imports from Saudi Arabia and Thailand shoot up

During January-August period, LLDPE imports increased by around 23% from the same period of 2018. Saudi Arabia was the top supplier to China, with volumes increasing by 30%. The second major LLDPE supplier was Singapore, raising its market share by 16%. Thailand, which came third in the rankings, saw its LLDPE imports jump by more than 50% in January-August.

LLDPE imports from US suffer same fate as imports of HDPE

As China began imposing an additional 25% tariffs on LLDPE imports from the US last year, the country’s imports for this grade dropped dramatically. This indicated a plunge of around 57% from a year-ago period.

US LDPE shipments hit a record, but set to be cast aside

As the US LDPE was exempt from the 25% tariffs China imposed in August 2018, the US share of China’s import LDPE market rose from 5% during the same period of last year to almost 10% in January-August this year. However, this increase will not be sustained by the end of the year upon the latest round of tariffs applied by China on US LDPE in late August. .

PP imports remain resilient in Jan-Aug

Homo-PP imports showed a slight year-on-year increase of around 5% during the first eight months of 2019. The top supplier was South Korea, followed by Saudi Arabia and Singapore ,although South Korea and Saudi Arabia respectively exported 5% and 8% less than the same period of last year.

Imports of PP copolymer during the same period also increased 14% on year. China’s biggest supplier for this grade was Taiwan. Next on the list of major PP copolymer suppliers were Singapore and South Korea respectively.

PVC imports lose steam

As for the imports of PVC, the figure slightly decreased by 2% during the January-August period. In line with the overall drop, imports of PVC from the US declined marginally by 3%, but managed to preserve its top spot in the list. The other key suppliers of this product were Taiwan and Japan.

PS imports jump during the first eight months

During the January-August period, PS, imports jumped 15% on year. Imports from Taiwan increased 6%, placing the country as the largest PS supplier of China. Singapore and Malaysia also found themselves a spot in the top three list.
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