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Stats: EU27’s 2023 polymer imports down on year; PVC and PS hit record highs

by Manolya Tufan - mtufan@chemorbis.com
  • 07/03/2024 (10:06)
Yearly polymer imports to the EU27 from extra-union partners fell by 9% compared to 2022, when imports hit a record high slightly over 10 million tons. Total polymer imports in 2023 declined to around 9.2 million tons following yearly increases of 11% in 2021 and 5% in 2022. This marked the lowest volume since 2020.

The yearly drop in import volumes came in line with the demand collapse as high inflation took its toll on consumption throughout 2023, while uncertainties stemming from geopolitical tensions and Panama Canal disruptions also played a role in curbing import volumes. The bleak demand outlook for early 2024 led to a slow destocking pace at home and subdued import trading by Q4 2023 despite disciplined rate cuts across the region.

Europe-Import Statistics – Yearly – Polymers

Data from ChemOrbis Stats Wizard reveal that the EU27’s cumulative PP imports fell by 11% from 2022 to slightly below 2 million tons in 2023. Total PP imports were 18% less than 2021, when imports rose by 30% to hit an all-time high at around 2.5 million tons. PE imports dropped by 14% on the year to around 4.4 million tons, while volumes came below 5 million tons for the first time since 2020. PET imports posted a yearly drop of more than 3% at around 1.6 million tons, while ABS imports fell by 9% to 241,000 tons.

Meanwhile, overall PVC imports soared by 23% from 2022 to hit a record high at 700,000 tons after gradually increasing in 2021 and 2022. PS imports were marginally up on the year to reach around 360,000 tons, marking the largest import volume since 2000.
It is crucial to point out that the EU27 data do not include intra-Europe trade, with trade partners being out of the union of 27 countries.

The US cements its presence in Europe’s PE market

ChemOrbis Stats Wizard PRO suggests that the top 5 PE exporters to the EU27 in 2023 were the USA with more than 1.5 million tons, holding a market share of 34%, followed by Saudi Arabia with a 20% share , South Korea , Qatar and the United Kingdom . The last three countries all had less than 10% shares.

The US remained the key PE supplier of the union, raising its market share by 10% on the year as US PE exports hit fresh records. Meanwhile, imports to the EU27 from other suppliers fell by 19%, 11%, 10% and 39%, respectively.

On a product breakdown basis, imports of LDPE, LLDPE, mLLDPE and HDPE experienced respective drops of 26%, 18%, 8% and 9% last year. Imports of mLLDPE fell for the first time in 2023 to around 1.2 million tons after five consecutive years of increases, as a side note.

Copolymer imports hit fresh highs

In overall PP imports, Saudi Arabia and South Korea remained the two largest suppliers of the region, with a combined share of around 55%. Israel and the US moved up on the list, dethroning Russia and Egypt. Imports from Russia ceased after the EU countries introduced severe sanctions against Russia amid the war in Ukraine.

Copolymer imports hit a record high at above 550,000 tons, staging a 7% increase from 2022. Although South Korea’s share in copolymer imports was barely changed at around 42%, imports from the country rose by 9% on the year. Indeed, S. Korea ramped up PP exports to the EU and Türkiye after losing market share in China amid huge capacity expansions.

Data from ChemOrbis Stats Wizard PRO reveal that PPH imports experienced a substantial drop of 16% last year to stand at 1.4 million tons, mirroring lower-than-usual consumption levels.

The US dethrones Mexico to become the largest PVC supplier

The US dethroned Mexico to become the union’s by far largest supplier with 284,000tons, followed by Mexico (134,000 tons), South Korea (76,000 tons), Egypt (54,000 tons) and Norway (49,000 tons). S. Korea joined the list of top 5 suppliers last year after imports showed an increase of 154% from 2022.

2023 imports from the US rose by 99% on the year, while imports from Egypt rose by 23%. Imports from the US and Egypt to the bloc indicated a seven-to-eight-fold increase compared to 2020, as a side note.

Indeed, the European Commission launched an investigation on imports of S-PVC originating in Egypt and the USA amid allegations that rising export volumes cause injury to the industry in the most recent period. The repercussions of this investigation are analysed in the “US PVC may face exodus from Europe; trade flow shifts and rising competition to ensue” story.

Increasing import volumes amid global slowdown weighed on PVC prices that followed a mostly downtrend over the course of 2023 despite regional suppliers’ efforts to manage supplies. Europe is a net exporter with 2023 exports breaching 1 million tons versus cumulative imports of around 700,000 tons.

PET bottle imports continue to grow

Among the top 5 suppliers, Türkiye was the top exporter with 320,000 tons, followed by Vietnam (295,000 tons), China (279,000 tons), Egypt (194,000 tons) and South Korea (147,000 tons). China was dethroned by Türkiye as Chinese imports fell by 19% from 2022, when imports witnessed an eye-catching increase of 177%.

In 2023, China’s market share shrank from around 20% to 17% as European buyers have been shunning Chinese PET imports due to an antidumping investigation that was initiated by late March 2023. While it took until November 2023 to impose provisional antidumping duties on Chinese PET, official duties are expected to be implemented by late May 2024.

Vietnam became the second largest exporter after imports rose by 84% on the year, while South Korea also moved up in the list with an increase of 30% on a yearly basis.

Despite the yearly decline in overall imports, PET bottle imports indicated a steady growth to hit an all-time high at 1.3 million tons. Yearly PET textile imports, meanwhile, plunged by more than 32%.

PS imports hit record high; Europe imports 80% of ABS from Asia

For PS, Türkiye and Iran remained the main two suppliers of Europe, with respective shares of 22% and 20%, totalling about 150,000 tons. This was followed by China, Norway and South Korea . Last year, China and South Korea boosted their market shares from 8% to 9% and from 3.6% to 6%, respectively. Meanwhile, China came to the fore in increasing its market share when compared to the previous years as imports increased sixteen-fold compared to 2021.

Europe switched from being a net exporter to an importer in 2022 and 2023. PS imports to the bloc gradually increased since 2020 to hit an all-time high in 2023, while the union’s exports have been on the decline since then.

In a product-based breakdown, Europe’s GPPS and HIPS imports rose by 22% from 2022. EPS, meanwhile, fell by 8% on the year and this indicated the first drop since 2017.

As for ABS, South Korea (149,570 tons), Taiwan (42,080 tons), the USA (11,940 tons), Saudi Arabia (9,770 tons) and Thailand (6,890 tons) were the top 5 suppliers last year. S. Korea and Taiwan constituted 80% of the cumulative imports. As S. Korea boosted its market share from around 58% to 62%, Taiwan’s share fell to 17.4% from 24%.

ABS imports fell by 9% on the year, while they were still above the union’s exports that have been falling since its 2021 peak.
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