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Northeast Asian chemical trade on the rise

Tue 01 Aug 2017

Northeast Asian chemical trade on the rise

Japanese exports dropped by 286,000 tonnes (11%) in the year to May, compared with the year earlier. This was mainly due to the decline in other xylenes exports, which fell from 330,000 tonnes to only 69,000 tonnes, with a sharp decline in volumes heading to neighbouring countries, particularly South Korea.

By contrast, South Korean exports were on the rise increasing by 339,000 tonnes (7%) this year. South Korea’s largest export, paraxylene, grew at a faster pace from 2.6 million tonnes up to May 2016 to just below 3 million tonnes in 2017, mainly due to a rise in shipments heading to China. Benzene exports rose by 29% this year to just over one million tonnes, with more volumes being shipped to its shortsea trading partners, especially China, with smaller increases to Japan and Taiwan. This more than offset the shortfall in cargoes heading to USA where the arbitrage window has been closed since November last year. Other xylenes and MTBE/ETBE also experienced rises in shipments but by comparative smaller volumes. All other products saw a decline, with toluene falling the most, by 126,000 tonnes.

Similarly, Taiwanese exports to April this year also enjoyed a net rise expanding by 246,000 tonnes (20%). Most products saw a rise in exports, with ethylene glycol gaining the most, by 151,000 tonnes with more cargoes heading to China. All other products saw an increase with the exception of acrylonitrile, MTBE/ETBE and styrene.

Japanese imports of commodity chemicals up to May have risen this year by 193,000 tonnes (12%). Almost all products were on an upward trend although for some products the changes were marginal. Imports of benzene, ethylene dichloride, and methanol grew the most, totalling 181,000 tonnes.

Similarly, South Korean imports also increased with most products experiencing gains and overall volumes increasing by 202,000 tonnes (12%). The largest rise was for toluene which is up by 46% compared with last year’s volumes. Like Japan, South Korea has seen a rise in methanol imports, with both countries experiencing reductions from New Zealand and resourcing their supplies from other countries. The only slowdowns were for benzene, MBTE/ETBE and paraxylene totalling 30,000 tonnes.

Taiwan also saw an increase in imports – this time to April – of 217,000 tonnes (15%) with the highest gains from neighbouring countries. The main drivers behind this were paraxylene and methanol with a combined increase of 186,000 tonnes. Imports of other products have been increasing this year with the exception of acrylonitrile, ethanol, ethylene glycol and MBTE/ETBE.

To summarise, total exports for Taiwan and South Korea have risen by 20% and 7% respectively, with Japanese exports reducing by 11%. Based on changes to year-to-date figures, total exports from northeast Asia will increase by 4.7% in 2017.

All three countries saw a rise in import volumes with South Korea and Japan each increasing by 12% this year and Taiwan increasing by 15%, giving an overall increase of imports into northeast Asia of 12.9%.

The above is from the Chemical Carrier World service provided by Richardson Lawrie Associates Ltd (RLA), a firm of international maritime economists and business consultants. More information can be found at

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