The Top 5 Biggest Chemical Exporters In The World


Every single year, the global chemical industry generates total revenue of around $4 tr...

NES Fircroft

By NES Fircroft

Every single year, the global chemical industry generates total revenue of around $4 trillion. In 2020, global export value totalled $1.347 trillion, with Europe at the top ($551.9 billion), followed by Asia-Pacific ($504.7 billion) and North America ($153.2 billion).

Chemicals have a huge part to play in our daily lives and touch nearly every goods-producing sector in the world, so it isn’t surprising that the industry represents 7% of the world’s GDP. According to an analysis by Oxford Economics, the industry supports 120 million jobs worldwide.

So, which are the top countries that are responsible for the highest worldwide exports and contributing to this thriving sector?

Germany – R&D investments worth $118.5 billion

In 2020, German chemical exports were worth €192.1 billion. The German chemical scene is very rich, with nearly 3000 different companies, 96% of which are SMEs. It’s also the third-largest industry in Germany, after the automotive and machinery and equipment industries. The country also plays a major role within the European chemical exporting world, representing 70% of the European chemical export market.

The German chemical industry is also known for being at the forefront of technology and innovation. In 2018, they spent €105 billion ($118.5 billion) on R&D, equivalent to 3.1% of their GDP. It is also a huge employer, with 464,400 people working for German chemical companies.

The sector recorded extremely good figures in the first half of 2021. Nearly all product areas saw a rise during the period, with the production of polymers up 20.3 %, fine and speciality chemicals up 8.7 %, petrochemicals up 6.9 %, inorganic basic chemicals up 6.3 %, and pharmaceuticals up 1.4 %. Only consumer products saw a slight downturn in volumes of 1.8%.

The United States – A chemical export value worth $184 billion

In 2020, the value of US chemical exports reached $184 billion. And some of the biggest chemical companies in the world are American. In 2020, Dow, the largest chemical company in the US, recorded a revenue of $38.5 billion. They are the world’s second-largest chemical company after BASF, a German business. LyondellBasell and DuPont are two other notable US chemical companies.

Most of the production of basic chemicals in the United States is found along the Gulf Coast, where natural gas and petroleum feedstocks are accessible from refineries. Louisiana and Texas are the biggest producers of primary petrochemicals, whilst the production of other chemicals such as fertilisers, plastics and pharmaceuticals is more widely spread across states. Canada, Mexico, and China are the three biggest importers of American chemicals.

The US chemical industry (including the pharmaceutical industry) is a huge employer in the country, providing work for approximately 529,000 people.

China – Representing 41% of global chemical revenue

In 2019, the value of chemical exports in China worldwide was worth $130.29 billion and in that same year, of the near $4 trillion in global revenue for the chemical industry, 41% came from China alone. Domestic chemical consumption in 2019 reached a value of $1.7 trillion.

Most of the country’s chemical exports consist of organic chemicals. The category accounts for more than three-quarters of Chinese chemical exports based on value. Total revenue for this category was worth more than $314 billion and it employs more than 710,000 people.

The biggest chemical companies in China are mostly state-owned. Within the petrochemical, oil, and gas sector, PetroChina and Sinopec are the biggest players in terms of revenue, generating more than 2.5 trillion yuan ($392 billion) in revenue in 2020 each.

Ireland – 60% of the country’s total exports

Chemicals (including pharmaceuticals) represent a significant part of all Irish exports. In 2019, the industry was responsible for 60% of the country’s total exports, worth €92.9 billion ($104.5 billion). The Irish chemical industry also supports 30,000 direct jobs and 30,000 more indirect ones.

The Irish chemical industry is mostly dominated by pharmaceutical companies that are either involved in Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) manufacture or dosage form manufacture. When it comes to biopharmaceutical manufacturing, Ireland only comes second to the US.

There is a cluster of API facilities around Cork, which mostly deal with high-end chemical synthesis. Dublin presents a much more diverse chemical scene, which involves drug product formulation, chemical synthesis, and biotechnology manufacture (which includes fermentation, purification and formulation).

There has also been a lot of investment in new chemical projects within the country over the years. Between 2012 and 2020, companies invested about €10 billion in capital projects, creating over 3,000 new jobs. R&D is also very much a priority within the Irish chemical industry. In 2018, R&D expenditure within the industry reached €584.6 million ($657.6 million).

Switzerland – A chemical sector driven by Life Science innovation and speciality chemicals

In 2019, Switzerland’s chemical exports were worth CHF 114 billion ($123.3 billion), coming from about 1000 chemical, pharmaceutical and life sciences companies employing 74,200 people in the country and 338,000 worldwide. These companies are mainly based in Basel, Zurich, Zug and the Lake Geneva region. The chemical industry is Switzerland’s biggest exporter, contributing 47% of the country’s total exports.

Science and innovation are the very foundation of the economic success of the science chemical and science industry. In 2018, the sector invested CHF 7.2 billion ($7.8 billion) in research and development, a third of the country’s worldwide research investment.

Switzerland’s focus is on speciality chemicals, mainly pharmaceuticals and diagnostics, vitamins, crop protection agents, flavours and fragrances, fine chemicals, pigments and dyestuffs.

Some of the biggest players within the Swiss chemical industry (including pharmaceuticals) are NovartisRocheSyngentaFirmenich, and Givaudan.

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