The global chemical industry has experienced steady growth in production, consumption and trade over the last 35 years. The value of the chemical trade rose from US$171 000 million in 1970 to US$1.5 million million in 1998 (Buccini 2004). The sector is expected to continue to grow until 2020. Four broad trends are evident (Buccini 2004):

  • Global chemical output will continue to rise. In 2010, it is predicted to increase by 63 per cent compared to 1996. Estimated annual growth rates for the global industry range from 2.6 to 3.5 per cent, corresponding to the predicted rate of growth for global gross domestic product (GDP). By 2020, global output is expected to increase by 85 per cent over 1995 levels.
  • Globally, per capita consumption is increasing.
  • There will be a shift in chemicals production from OECD countries to non-OECD countries. Nevertheless, OECD countries will remain the largest producers in 2020, but their share will decrease to 69 per cent of total world production, that is 10 per cent below 1995 levels.
  • Total demand for chemicals will increase more rapidly in the developing than in the developed world. By 2020, the developing world will increase its share from 23 per cent of global chemical demand and 21 per cent of production in 1995 to 33 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively.

Figure 1: The general structure of the chemical industry The global chemical industry is still concentrated in 16 countries that account for about 80 per cent of global production. These are the US, Japan, Germany, China, France, UK, Italy, Korea, Brazil, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Netherlands, Taiwan, Switzerland and Russia (Buccini 2004). Key developing country producers include the Republic of Korea, India, Brazil, China, Mexico, Singapore, Argentina, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines (OECD 2001). Figure 1 gives an overview of the chemical industry.