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German auto industry opposes EU tariffs on EVs from China

LONDON (ICIS)–Germany’s auto industry is opposed to tariffs on electric vehicles (EVs) from China, trade group German Association of the Automotive Industry said on Wednesday. The group, known as VDA in its German acronym, was reacting to a European Commission proposal of tariffs on battery electric vehicles (BEVs) from China after an investigation concluded they benefited from unfair subsidies. VDA said the proposed tariffs were not the right tool to strengthen the competitiveness of Europe’s auto industry. Instead, the tariffs would further escalate the risk of trade conflicts, to the detriment of Germany’s automakers, it said. “The fact is that we need China to solve global problems,” in particularly in dealing with the climate crisis, it said. China played a crucial role in a successful transformation towards electromobility and digitalization, and a trade conflict would jeopardize this transformation, the group said. However, VDA added that the extent of the subsidies China grants EV makers was “a challenge” for Europe and it called on China to make “constructive proposals” to settle the dispute. Germany ranks first in Europe and second after China globally in terms of EV production, and the bulk of German EV production goes into export, according to VDA data released this week. Industry observers have noted that Germany-based EV production relies on imports of materials and batteries from China. The US last month announced tariff hikes on Chinese imports of EVs, batteries and other materials, starting 1 August. In related news, the business climate in Germany’s automotive industry deteriorated in May amid fears about impacts on German automakers from the conflict with China, according to a recent survey by Munich-based ifo research. The automotive industry is a major global consumer of petrochemicals that contributes more than one-third of the raw material costs of an average vehicle. The automotive sector drives demand for chemicals such as polypropylene (PP), along with nylon, polystyrene (PS), styrene butadiene rubber (SBR), polyurethane (PU), methyl methacrylate (MMA) and polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). Additional reporting by Graeme Paterson Please also visit the ICIS topic page Automotive: Impact on chemicals Thumbnail photo shows a Volkswagen EV; photo source: Volkswagen


Canada rail labor union to hold new strike ballot

TORONTO (ICIS)–Canadian rail labor union Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) will hold a new strike vote because an earlier mandate for industrial action will expire on 30 June, it said in an update. In early May, about 9,300 unionized conductors, train operators and engineers at rail carriers Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) voted for a strike as early as 22 May. However, Canada’s federal labor minister then referred the matter to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) for a decision about a strike’s impacts on public safety and health. A legal strike or lockout cannot occur until a CIRB decision, and it is unclear when that decision will be made. TCRC said in its update that under Canadian labor law, the strike mandate from May is set to expire on 30 June. In order to be in a position to strike once the CIRB makes its decision, TCRC will therefore conduct a new strike ballot, beginning 14 June and running until 29 June, it said. WHEN COULD A STRIKE START?As the CIRB process is ongoing, the board has extended the deadline for affected industry trade groups to make submissions from 31 May to 14 June. After the CIRB decision, TCRC would have to give 72 hours’ notice before a strike can begin. The CIRB may grant the rail carriers’ request for a 30-day extension, starting from the decision date, before the 72-hour notice can be served. The rail carriers have estimated that given the CIRB process, a strike will not start before mid-to-end July. The parties do not have to wait for the CIRB process to run its course. Instead, they can continue bargaining and reach an agreement at any time. However, TCRC said that since the strike was referred to the CIRB, the rail carriers “have completely withdrawn any commitment to negotiate”. The rail carriers have proposed binding arbitration, but TCRC has rejected this. IMPACT ON CHEMICALS The uncertainties around the timing of rail labor disruption are affecting Canadian chemical, fertilizers and other manufacturers. Canadian chemical producers rely on rail to ship more than 70% of their products, with some exclusively using rail, while in the fertilizers industry about 75% of all fertilizers produced and used in Canada is moved by rail. In the run-up to potential strikes, producers need to prepare, longer strikes can force them to curtail production or shut down plants, and after a strike ends it can take weeks for normal operations to resume. The impacts may be limited to some extent as the CIRB can order that rail shipments of certain essential products, for example water treatment chemicals, be maintained during the strike. Thumbnail photo source: Canadian National


Future disruption to Panama Canal will depend on El Nino intensity – expert

SANTIAGO (ICIS)–Despite arrangements put in place to make the Panama Canal fit for a changing climate, future disruption at the Americas key shipping route will depend on a variable no-one can predict: the intensity of future El Niño weather phenomenon, according to an expert at maritime services provider CB Fenton on Tuesday. Gabriel Mariscal, business manager at the Panama-headquartered company, added that the climate change-related challenges for the Panama Canal have increased on the back of the new locks inaugurated in 2016 – the so-called NeoPanamax locks – which require more water than the old locks, called Panamax. Equally, more water will also be needed to cater for the demographic needs of an ever-growing Panama City, already a metropolis of 2 million people. El Niño is a climate phenomenon that emerges from variations in winds and sea surface temperatures over the tropical Pacific ocean, warming the waters, and disproportionally hitting tropical and subtropical countries on west Latin America. The El Niño which has just finished has been the hardest in history, with large-scale disruption in the Panama Canal due to the drought as well as putting against the ropes economies in countries such as Peru, where GDP fell in 2023 on the back of the weather phenomenon. Mariscal was speaking at an event about logistics organized by the Latin American Petrochemical and Chemical Association (APLA). NEW LOCKS, MORE WATERThe Panama Canal inaugurated with great fanfare its new locks in June 2016. The NeoPanamax locks are 427 meters (1,400 feet) long by 55 meters wide and 18.3 meters deep. NeoPanamax is used to designate ships that exceed the maximum size (Panamax) of the Miraflores, Pedro Miguel and Gatun locks first built. Meanwhile, Mariscal said the strongest El Niño phenomenon in the last 50 years occurred in 1982-1983, 1997-1998, and 2015-2016, but points to one big difference to now: the population in Panama City is already grown to 2 million people, around half of the country’s population. “Future disruption will really depend on the intensity of the El Niño event. El Niño has always existed, but the challenge now is that you have a Panama Canal that consumes much more water than before, even with the NeoPanamax locks reusing water,” said Mariscal. “So, adding up population growth and new locks using more water, consumption is now much larger. In 2023, that was a challenge for the Canal: they somehow expected disruption with this El Niño, but they didn’t expect it to come so soon [the last El Niño took place in 2018-2019, but it was not as severe].” PLANNING FOR A CHANGING CLIMATEMariscal works almost daily with the Panama Canal. He said he is glad to see the Authority has a meteorology and hydrology department which monitors climate issues closely and daily. For instance, he mentions that department was one of the first in the world to detect the end of the El Niño just passed, by detecting colder waters in Peru and Ecuador’s shores. “That allows them to make prompt decisions. Considering how important the Panama Canal is for the country’s economy, they know they cannot be laggards: they need to be ahead of the game. You can see this in other aspects in the country as well: in Panama City you see a lot of green spaces, for example,” said Mariscal. “This is not just by chance and to embellish the city: it is because we really need that green, so that it continues to rain where it has to rain to keep up water levels at the Canal where they must be.  The Panama Canal is leader in climate change-related disruption in the country.” Mariscal estimates that the Panama Canal, as well as the maritime-related services associated to it generate around 65% of Panama’s wealth, with tourism and banking services practically making up for the rest. The APLA Logistica event runs in Santiago on 11-12 June. Interview article by Jonathan Lopez Recasts to update spelling of El Nino to El Niño throughout


Chemical tanker prices rise as much as 75% since 2020 on lack of liquidity – expert

SANTIAGO (ICIS)–Chemicals tanker prices have risen globally 30-75% in the past four years on a lack of liquidity, an expert at Chile-headquartered chemicals bulk operator Ultratank said on Tuesday. Mathias Dummer, market analyst at Ultratank, added since pandemic-hit 2020 prices have steadily grown, especially those for second-hand tankers, which have gone up as much as 75% to around $35 million per chemical tanker. Before the pandemic, those prices stood at around $26 million. According to Dummer, prices for second-hand tankers have risen sharply on the back of strong returns in the spot markets as well as tonnage illiquidity. In newbuild chemical tankers, prices have gone up since 2020 by 30% to around $40 million, said Dummer. Before the pandemic, newbuild prices stood at around $32 million. Dummer was speaking at an event about logistics organized by the Latin American Petrochemical and Chemical Association (APLA). HIGHER LOGISTICS COSTS FOR LONGER?The analyst said the higher costs for chemical tankers could be here to stay, because chemicals market fundamentals would support in years to come strong freight markets and as long as key conflicts globally remain unresolved. “The embargo on Russian crude and the situation in the Red Sea is supporting higher tonne miles and keeping swing tonnage away. If solutions to both conflicts are reached, freight markets will likely adjust downwards, but this will be highly dependent on how easily supply chains can adjust back,” said Dummer. “Ship operators are facing higher costs, which will likely support higher rates, even if trading gets back to normal.” Moreover, the analyst added that the chemical tankers fleet is ageing, which makes it a heavily pollutant sector, while international regulations from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), an UN-dependent body, are pushing the industry towards decarbonization. “The road to shipping decarbonization will pose additional challenges and may further hinder the fleets’ productivity by forcing slower sailing speeds and retiring ships from the market,” said Dummer. “The use of renewable fuels will likely increase operational costs.” The APLA Logistica event runs in Santiago on 11-12 June.


Styrolution to permanently shut Sarnia styrene plant in Canada

HOUSTON (ICIS)–INEOS Styrolution will close its 445,000 tonnes/year styrene production plant in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, by June 2026, the company announced Tuesday. Styrolution has been involved in a dispute with Canadian government officials over the plant after a nearby indigenous group complained about benzene emission levels from the site. The company shut the plant for maintenance in April after the complaints surfaced. But Styrolution said that was not the reason for the plant closure. “Our decision to permanently close the Sarnia site by June 2026 is irrespective of the current situation,” the company said in a news release. Styrene producers in North America, as well as globally, have been battling poor economics due to over-capacity. North American styrene operating rates have been under 70% so far this year. China, once a key outlet for North American styrene, has added significant styrene capacity over the past three years. China commissioned 3.7 million tonnes of styrene capacity in 2023 alone. “This difficult business decision to permanently close our Sarnia site was made following a lengthy evaluation process and is based on the economics of the facility within a wider industry context,” Styrolution CEO Steve Harrington said. “The long-term prospects for the Sarnia site have worsened to the point that it is no longer an economically viable operating asset.” Even with the loss of styrene supply to the market, the Sarnia plant closure in April has had no impact on styrene spot prices. “Additional large investments that are unrelated to the potential costs of restarting operations would be necessary in the near future. Such investments would be economically impractical given today’s challenging industry environment,” Harrington said. In late May, Canada’s federal environment minister extended an order imposing stricter benzene emission controls on plants operating at the Sarnia petrochemicals production hub in southern Ontario, close to the US border and Detroit, Michigan, for two years. The order came after an Ontario provincial ministry suspended production operations at Styrolution's Sarnia styrene plant following the complaints from residents about potentially high benzene emissions. In addition to styrene, the Sarnia plant has ethylbenzene production capacity of 490,000 tonnes/year, according to the ICIS Supply and Demand Database. Styrolution operates two additional styrene plants in North America – the 770,000 tonnes/year facility in Bayport, Texas, and the 455,000 tonnes/year plant in Texas City, Texas. The Sarnia plant represents approximately 7% of North American nameplate styrene capacity. Styrene is a chemical used to make latex and polystyrene resins, which in turn are used to make plastic packaging, disposable cups and insulation. Major North American styrene producers include AmSty, INEOS Styrolution, LyondellBasell Chemical, Shell Chemicals Canada, Total Petrochemicals and Westlake Styrene. Thumbnail shows a cup made of polystyrene (PS), which is one of the main derivatives of styrene. Image by ICIS.


PODCAST: Methanol could play leading role in the low-carbon energy transition

BARCELONA (ICIS)–Methanol has long-term potential as a major player in the energy transition, especially for use as a marine fuel. Methanol mainly made from coal in China, natural gas elsewhere Used to make formaldehyde, acetic acid, in China mainly coal-based methanol to olefins (MTO) Q2 typically sees peak demand for Europe construction but subdued this year Concerns about overcapacity globally as new projects come onstream Use as marine fuel may be a big driver of growth long term Energy transition offers great opportunities In this Think Tank podcast, Will Beacham interviews ICIS senior editor Eashani Chavda and ICIS Insight editor Nigel Davis. Editor’s note: This podcast is an opinion piece. The views expressed are those of the presenter and interviewees, and do not necessarily represent those of ICIS. ICIS is organising regular updates to help the industry understand current market trends. Register here . Read the latest issue of ICIS Chemical Business. Read Paul Hodges and John Richardson's ICIS blogs.


Closures of high-cost assets to accelerate in Europe, northeast Asia – ICIS

SANTIAGO (ICIS)–Announcements of closures for high-cost assets, especially in Europe and northeast Asia, are likely to accelerate in coming quarters as the global petrochemicals industry is forced to rationalize, according to an ICIS analyst on Tuesday. Antulio Borneo, vice president for the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyester chain at ICIS, said announcements of closures for steam crackers – the key facility to produce petrochemicals – in Europe are to accelerate after two key players already said they were shutting theirs. Earlier in 2024, US energy major ExxonMobil said it was to shut its cracker in Gravenchon, France, and Saudi petrochemicals major SABIC said it would shut its facility in Geleen, the Netherlands. “High-cost assets reside mainly in Europe and northeast Asia; the pressure to rationalize old and inefficient assets will intensify as time passes, but it will be expensive,” said Borneo. “Announcements of permanent closures of chemicals plants are expected to gain momentum throughout 2024.” Borneo was speaking at an event about logistics organized by the Latin American Petrochemical and Chemical Association (APLA). The consultant went on to say that Europe’s crackers are, on average, nearly 45 years old, while those in northeast Asia – excluding China – are on average just over 30 years old. With the global oversupply in petrochemicals expected to take years to be absorbed and take the market back into balance, those old assets are first on the line to be shut, concluded Borneo. The APLA Logistica event runs in Santiago on 11-12 June.


Finland to enforce ban on Russian LNG by next spring, says official

Finland hopes to enforce ban on Russian LNG in spring 2025 Finland would be first to use an EU option to unilaterally ban Russian gas and LNG Finland will most likely rely on supply from Norway and the US at small-scale terminals LONDON (ICIS)–Finland’s government has told ICIS it hopes to enforce a ban on Russian LNG in spring 2025, after proposing the legislation this winter. “The legislative proposal on banning Russian gas is due winter 2024-2025 …most likely early 2025,” Director General of the Energy Department at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, Riku Huttunen, told ICIS.
“After that the ban might be in force in spring 2025.” His comments follow last week’s news that Finland will propose by winter legislation to ban. Finland’s LNG import terminal, Inkoo, already effectively bans Russian LNG due to the terminal’s rules of operation. LNG is still imported from Russia at Finland’s Pori and Tornio terminals under long-term agreements. The two small-scale terminals are not connected to Finland’s gas grid. Finland’s foreign trade statistics indicate that 65% of gas imports in the fourth quarter 2023 came from the US, with 23% coming from Norway and 7% from Russia. Replacing Russian supplies to the small-scale market following winter is expected to go ahead relatively smoothly. “The LNG market is quite liquid at the moment, so I expect no difficulties in replacing the small amounts of Russian LNG still used in Finland,” said Huttunen. “The companies make the commercial decisions,” he said. “Currently, the most important suppliers to the Finnish-Baltic gas market are Norway and the US.” Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment cited earlier this month European Commission analysis that gas supply over winter 2024-2025 will be sufficient to meet Europe’s needs. It also referred to the completion of repair work on the Balticonnector.


India eases polyester raw material import rules to boost textile exports

MUMBAI (ICIS)–India has relaxed import rules on polyester staple fibre (PSF), filament and spun yarns to help its domestic downstream textile industry boost exports. Importers of these raw materials whose end-products were meant for exports will no longer be restricted to secure cargoes only from Bureau of International Standards (BIS)-certified producers, with immediate effect, based on a 6 June notification issued by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers. Their imports qualify under the advance authorization scheme, which allows duty-free imports of inputs for export purposes. Eligibility under this scheme is being determined by committees appointed by the government. “The announcement has given a relief to the manmade fibre (MMF) textile product exporters enabling them to improve their export performance that had been significantly affected in the last two years,” S K Sundraraman, chairman of industry body Southern India Mills Association (SIMA) said in a statement on 7 June. SIMA as well as the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI) had been seeking exemptions from the mandatory Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) certification of raw material imports under the Quality Control Order (QCO) since it was announced in April 2021 and took effect in October 2023. Previously, raw materials can only be purchased from BIS license holders. While domestic manufacturers of raw materials have obtained BIS licenses, applications from foreign manufacturers have remained pending, thereby constraining local textile production. Manufacturers and exporters of goods that used specialty fibres and yarns as raw material were impacted by the QCO as they faced problems procuring the goods from global suppliers, SIMA stated. Focus article by Priya Jestin


Americas top stories: weekly summary

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Here are the top stories from ICIS News from the week ended 7 June. Celanese declares force majeure on acetic acid and VAM in Europe, Americas Celanese has declared force majeure on acetic acid and vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) in the "Western Hemisphere", which is understood to include the Americas and the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. Canada rail strike unlikely to begin before mid-to-late July, rail carrier CN says Rail carrier Canadian National (CN) estimates that a threatened rail strike in Canada is unlikely to begin before mid-to-late July, it said in an update on its website on Thursday. Mexico’s Altamira petchems force majeure declarations continue on severe drought Petrochemicals producers in the production hub of Altamira, in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, keep declaring force majeure as a severe drought halved water supplies to industrial players. Brazil’s Braskem expects operations at Triunfo to normalize in ‘coming days’ Braskem’s operations at Triunfo in floods-hit state of Rio Grande do Sul are still yet fully normalized, despite the plant having restarted more than two weeks ago, a spokesperson said to ICIS on Wednesday. Pace of China chemical capacity additions unsustainable – Huntsman CEO The blistering pace of chemical capacity additions in China is likely to tail off, as the current wave is the result of prior planning during better times, the CEO of Huntsman said. IPEX: Index down for first time this year on weak demand in all regions The ICIS Petrochemical Index (IPEX) was down 1.2% in May month on month, as weak downstream demand paved the way for price declines in all regions. Protectionism and tariffs a key concern for US chemicals – ACC execs The increasing trend towards protectionism and tariffs is a key concern for the US chemical industry, said executives at the American Chemistry Council (ACC). INSIGHT: Mexico’s emissions, energy policy and Pemex main challenges for new president Mexico’s new – and first female – president Claudia Sheinbaum will have to decide soon into her term whether she changes course in two key aspects: energy policy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the support for state-owned, indebted and underperforming energy major Pemex. Nylon recovery progressing but building and construction still weak – AdvanSix CEO AdvanSix continues to see a gradual recovery in nylon demand driven by automotive and packaging, but building and construction remains challenged, said the CEO of AdvanSix.


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