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Stats: S. Korea’s 2023 PP exports down for 2nd year, PE sets a new record high 

by Elif Sevde Yalçın -
by Esra Ersöz -
  • 26/02/2024 (11:56)
Data from ChemOrbis Stats Wizard reveal that South Korea’s total PP exports in 2023 witnessed a decline for the second straight year, while its PE exports of PE set hit a new record high, albeit with a relatively smaller yearly growth. Apparently, South Korea has been facing a market loss in China for PP and PE and therefore, shifting focus to alternative destinations mainly Türkiye, India and the EU.  

S Korea’s PP exports on the decline, but not for Türkiye and the EU

South Korea’s overall PP exports have been declining steadily since 2021. In 2023, the country’s cumulative PP exports declined by nearly 9% from 2022 to stand at slightly above 3 million tons. This followed a 5% yearly decrease in 2022. 

Exports to all major Asian partners slump

In 2023, China remained the top PP buyer of South Korea with 710,000 tons, and 23% share in the export PP market of the country. However, this level indicated a 6% decrease in China’s market share from 2022. China’s rising domestic capacity is the main driving reason behind the slump in export sales to China.  

Vietnam also ranked as the second destination for South Korean PP once again, but its market share of 12.3% pointed a decline of 3.7% compared to2022.  

Indonesia became the fourth biggest PP buyer of South Korea for the second year in a row, witnessing a comparatively smaller decline of 0.8% in its market share. Japan also dropped back to the fifth place from being the third in 2022 and experienced a loss in its market share by 1.3% in 2023.  

S. Korea ramps up exports to Türkiye and the EU27

On the other hand, PP exports to Türkiye increased by 67% on year. Türkiye formed the 10% of overall exports, raising its share by 4.5% on year. Türkiye also moved up in the list to stand as the third largest buyer of South Korean PP.  

Likewise, exports to the EU27 also soared by 30% on year with their share rising by 4% to 14% in overall. As a union, the EU27 was indeed the second largest destination for South Korean PP in 2023, while it was the second in 2022.  

Upon new capacities being commissioned one after another across Asia, particularly in China, South Korean sellers are apparently looking for alternative export outlets where they benefit from duty exemptions albeit with the disadvantage of long transit times.  

*ChemOrbis Stats Wizard Pro: 2022 is on the left, 2023 on the right. Right click the images and open in a new tab to view the full-sized snapshots.

PE exports slightly up, mainly thanks toTürkiye and India

Unlike the slump in PP exports, South Korea’s overall PE exports experienced an increase – albeit a relatively marginal one by 2.4% - compared to 2022, standing at around 3 million tons. This marked an all-time high, according to ChemOrbis Stats Wizard. Among the top partners of South Korean PE, China, Türkiye, and India came to the forefront. Exports to the latter two expanded while almost all other partners witnessed decreases.  

China maintained its top position among South Korean PE buyers in 2023 with nearly 1.3 million tons, and around 42% market share; however, PE sales to China were down by 4% on year . Contrary to the yearly slump in China’s overall PP imports, China’s overall PE imports rebounded last year, although South Korea could not maintain its market share. This is because there is stiffening competition in China, where the US has outpaced Saudi Arabia, while Iran, South Korea and the UAE are fighting for the third place in market share amidst the coming and upcoming capacities inside.  

Vietnam also remained as the second top PE buyer of South Korea. However, the country’s share in South Korea’s PE exports decreased to 10.7% in 2023 from 12.1% observed in 2022.  

India, which ranked as the sixth in 2022 with around 2% market share, moved up to the third place in 2023, and held 5%of the overall market.  

Türkiye also increased its share in South Korea’s overall exports to nearly 5% from 2.6% in 2022 and took a step forward in the list and ranked as the fourth in 2023.  

Meanwhile, Belgium was among the top PE buyers of South Korea in 2022 by ranking the fourth with a 3.3% share in the market. However, the country became the eleventh in 2023, and its market share decreased to 1.6%. Likewise, exports to the EU27 inched down by 3% on year. 

*ChemOrbis Stats Wizard Pro: 2022 is on the left, 2023 on the right. Right click the images and open in a new tab to view the full-sized snapshots.

A brief look at PE stats on a product breakdown basis

HDPE exports to China, Vietnam slide; Türkiye and India jump

In 2023, total HDPE export of South Korea posted a visible increase of 13% from 2022, standing at nearly 2 million tons.  

China remained the top buyer of South Korea in 2023 with over 700,000 tons of imported HDPE. However, its market share in 2023 standing at 39.1% indicated a significant decrease by 10.3% when compared to 2022.  

Vietnam, also witnessing a decline of 2.3% in its market share from 2022, became the second biggest HDPE buyer of South Korea last year.  

Türkiye, by increasing its market share from 2.6% to 6.5%, ranked the third among the top HDPE partners list.  

India joined the list by ranking the fourth with a market share of 5.4% in 2023.  

India stands out in South Korea’s LDPE+LLDPE exports

As for the largest LDPE+LLDPE buyers of South Korea in 2023, China maintained its top position with around 264,000 tons, and 41.2% market share, indicating an increase of 1% from 2022, although the import volume of the country was marginally down compared to the previous year. 

The second biggest buyer was again Vietnam with 7.3% market share, which was down by 1.4% from 2022. India, the only country which increased its share in the market slightly, became the third in the list with a 5.6% share. Russia ranked the fourth among the top importers and hold 5.4% of the market, indicating a 2.4% decrease.

2024 outlook

Will South Korea’s PP exports continue to decrease in 2024?

Probably, yes. This is because China’s buying appetite will be cut further in 2024 by a double whammy of supply glut and staggering demand. ASEAN countries will not be of much help either, as they have also been experiencing the spillover impacts of disappointing demand in China while also welcoming the commissioning of new capacities in the region.  

Therefore, this will push South Korean PP sellers to inevitably seek alternative destinations to beef up sales. This will continue to be Türkiye and the European Union markets. However, long transit times and unfavorable freight rates will surely have an impinge on their competitive power in these markets. If the Red Sea crisis remains in place and extends into the second half of the year, it may leave no option for South Korean producer but to reduce operating rates further.  

Will South Korea maintain export growth in PE?

Similar to PP, China’s status is gaining importance to answer this question as the largest PE buyer of the world. Needless to say, China’s economy has fallen short of expectations. This situation, along with already long PE supply and capacities to be further expanded inside China may impose challenges to South Korea’s PE exports growth in 2024.  

Besides, the US stood out to beef up sales visibly in global markets thanks to its aggressive prices driven by its easier access to cheaper feedstocks, as well as its high capacity. Accordingly, South Korea will have to compete not only with the US but also Saudi Arabia and Iran in the export markets amidst China’s shrinking buying power.  

Where will South Korea divert its focus then?

Türkiye and India will gain prominence; however, like in the case in PP, Türkiye and Europe will be hindered by the ongoing Red Sea crisis at least for the first half of the year. Therefore, South Korea may ramp up sales further to non-Red Sea routes, mainly to India, where 2023 imports hit a record-high at above 3.5 million tons, becoming the second largest buyer of the world after China, leaving Türkiye and Vietnam far behind.  
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