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The global landscape for chemicals has changed significantly, with a lower demand growth expected to persist, however within these challenges and changes lies opportunity for those who adapt.

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Chemicals news

CDI Economic Summary: US Fed rate cuts delayed on sticky inflation, economic resilience

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (ICIS)–With disinflation having stalled above the US Federal Reserve’s targeted rate, Wall Street expectations of six rate cuts this year have evaporated. Interest rate futures are now moving towards fewer cuts and along the lines the latest Fed “dot plots” of three cuts this year. Any cuts that were to emerge will not happen until May or June. Starting with the production side of the economy, the January ISM US Manufacturing PMI registered 49.1, up 2 points from December and the 15th month in contraction. Only four industries out of 18 expanded, and weakness remains broad-based. But production moved back into expansion, as did new orders. The latter featured a 5.5-point gain to a positive 52.5 reading. This is always a good sign. Order backlogs contracted, however, at a faster pace. Both new orders and order backlogs, when combined with the reading on inventories, are good indicators of future activity. Inventories contracted, which could provide a floor for output. The long and deep de-stocking cycle could be ending, with the possibility for restocking this year. Meanwhile, the ISM US Services PMI improved 2.9 points to 53.4, a reading indicating modest expansion. The Manufacturing PMI for Canada remained in contraction during January while Mexico expanded. Brazil’s manufacturing PMI improved into expansion. Euro Area manufacturing has been in contraction for 18 months, and the region continues to skirt recession. China’s manufacturing PMI was slightly above breakeven levels for the third month, as its recovery continues to face headwinds. Other Asian PMIs were mixed. AUTO AND HOUSING OUTLOOKTurning to the demand side of the economy, light vehicle sales slumped in January due to severe winter weather. This allowed inventories to move up, but they still remain low compared to historical norms. Economists see light vehicle sales of 15.9 million this year before improving to 16.3 million in 2025. The latest cyclical peak was 17.2 million in 2018. Pent-up demand continues to provide support for this market. Homebuilder confidence remains in negative territory but is improving. Housing activity peaked in Spring 2022 and into mid-2023, with the latest housing reports being mixed. We expect that housing starts will average 1.42 million in 2024 and 1.48 million in 2025. We are above the consensus among economists. Demographic factors are supporting housing activity during this cycle. There’s significant pent-up demand for housing and a shortage of inventory. Falling mortgage interest rates will also support affordability and thus demand. RETAIL SALES FALLWith severe winter weather in much of the nation, nominal retail sales fell back in January. Sales were weak across most segments, but sales at restaurants and bars advanced. Spending for services is holding up, but the overall pace is slowing. Job creation continues at a good pace, and the unemployment rate is still at low levels. There are 1.4 vacancies per unemployed worker. This is off from a year ago but at a historically elevated level, which is still fostering wage pressures in services. Incomes are still holding up for consumers. INFLATION STILL HIGH BUT WILL EASEThe headline January Consumer Price Index (CPI) was up 3.1% year on year and core CPI (excluding food and energy) was up 3.9%. Progress on disinflation has been made but appears to be stabilizing. Economists expect inflation to average 2.7% this year, down from 4.1% in 2023 and 8.0% in 2022. Inflation is expected to soften further to 2.3% in 2025. Our ICIS leading barometer of the US business cycle has provided a signal consistent with the “rolling recession” scenario in manufacturing and transportation. The services sectors, however, continue to expand but are slowing. Recent readings show stabilization in this leading index, which is encouraging. US GDP FORECAST POINTS TO SOFT LANDINGAfter real GDP rose 5.8% in 2021 and then slowed to a 2.5% gain in 2022, the much-anticipated recession failed to materialize. In 2023, the economy expanded by 2.5% again. US economic growth is slowing from the rapid pace of Q3 and Q4, but those gains will aid 2024 performance which is showing a 2.1% gain. A cyclical slowdown in economic activity is occurring in 2025, economic growth should average 1.7% for the year. WEAKER OUTLOOK FOR EUROPE, CHINALooking overseas, recent global indicators show slow economic growth and soft commodity prices. Europe is skirting a shallow recession. The conflict affecting Red Sea seaborne trade adds to supply chain disruptions, costs and uncertainty for the region. Within the context of demographic headwinds, continued property sector woes and soft export markets, China’s economy has lost momentum. The government and Bank of China are responding with stimulus measures. For more updates and interactive charts, visit our ICIS Topic Page – Macroeconomic Outlook: Impact on Chemicals

23-Feb-2024

Equinor's H2H Saltend hydrogen project granted planning permission

600MW low carbon plant located in Northeast England Potential application for Cluster Sequencing Track-1 Expansion Site due to be operational by the end of the decade LONDON (ICIS)–Equinor's H2H Saltend low carbon hydrogen project has been granted planning permission by East Riding of Yorkshire Council, the company said in a press release 20 February. The plant is due to have a capacity of 600MW with carbon capture technology applied and is slated to begin commercial operations by the end of the decade. Equinor said that this was a major step forward for the project, with a potential application being prepared into the UK government's upcoming Cluster Sequencing Track-1 Expansion process which is due to launch later this year as part of the East Coast Cluster. The hydrogen set to be produced is expected to be used in chemical processes by nearby companies, as well as being blended with natural gas at the Triton power station, with 900,000 tonnes/year of CO2 expected to be stored in sub-sea aquifers. The H2H Saltend project is part of Equinor's Hydrogen to Humber ambition, which is forecast to produce 1.8GW of low carbon hydrogen within the region by 2030. The UK has ambitions to have 10GW of hydrogen capacity up and running by 2030, of which a maximum of 5GW will be low carbon hydrogen with the remainder being electrolytic hydrogen. Data from ICIS Analytics showed that UK hydrogen demand is due to increase from 21TWh this year to 72TWh by 2030, of which the chemicals sector is forecast to account for 20TWh (28%) of total UK hydrogen demand.

23-Feb-2024

INSIGHT: BASF's additional fixed and variable cost reductions in Ludwigshafen reflect Germany’s challenges

LONDON (ICIS)–BASF has suffered in Germany and across Europe from energy high costs and poor demand that continue to drive structural change. Much weakened competitiveness is forcing the company to tackle the situation at the upstream businesses by adapting production capacities to market needs. But plants not operating at 80-90% because of weak demand are a drag on profitability and something has to be done to sustain the operations at Ludwigshafen and maintain the cost-effective Verbund structure on which the company relies. “We have to say goodbye to the good old times in Germany,” BASF CEO Martin Brudermuller said on Friday on release of the company’s fourth quarter and full year 2023 financial results. Weak demand is on-going, although BASF believes that chemicals production globally will 2.7% this year compared with a tough 1.7% increase in 2023. Most growth, however, is expected to come in China. The company’s European operations are under significant pressure, and BASF is feeling the impact in its Chemicals and Materials segments where it has major production capabilities. Chemicals segment earnings (before interest, tax and special items) last year were down 82% at just €361m. Materials segment earnings were down 55% at €826m. Chemicals includes the building block petrochemicals while Materials includes engineering plastics and polyurethanes, among other systems, and their monomers. Gas costs in Europe are still twice what they were and four to five times higher than those in the US. Global supply and demand imbalances for major upstream chemicals are damaging structurally as well as in the short term and BASF has to adapt its giant Ludwigshafen production complex to the new realties. There will be plant shutdowns, Brudermuller said on Friday. Ludwigshafen is so big that it is impossible to imagine BASF without it, or at least to imagine a significantly changed production footprint. Nevertheless, against the backdrop of Germany and Europe’s challenged industrial position and an uncertain industrial manufacturing future the way it is transformed over the next few years will reflect the new realities. The complex has lost money recently – although it does bear the costs of the BASF global HQ amongst its overheads. Most of the company’s employees work there. A new cost reduction programme reduction of €1bn, adds to previous recent plans to address high costs. Plants and jobs will be impacted. New technology will be applied, and the company talks about tackling fixed costs and significantly trimming variable costs. "The situation is serious, so we are explicitly not ruling out any measures,” Brudermuller said. Taking carbon reduction plans into account also, the range of chemicals produced at Ludwigshafen is expected to change. The company has to factor into its plans the costs of decarbonisation of assets, some of which are many decades old. Its CFO, Dirk Elvermann said on Friday that the new reality will have an impact on manufacturing industry in Germany. BASF has to change its approach, he added, and adjust the type and dimensions of upstream and downstream assets. There will be a push towards the downstream, more downsizing and materials will be sourced from elsewhere, he indicated. BASF expects global economic weakness to continue this year with chemicals demand, impacted by high interest rates, rising only slowly in moderately growing customer industries. China growth is somewhat stronger, but uncertain. The company does not expect much from Europe while it foresees a slight slowdown in growth in the US. “We can’t do magic here,” Brudermüller said on Friday. That is possibly a phrase that applies to the company's asset footprint in Germany as much as market conditions. Insight by Nigel Davis

23-Feb-2024

BASF navigates low-growth environment as China Verbund spending continues

LONDON (ICIS)–As BASF prepares to provide more detail on its 2023 financial performance, the Germany-based chemicals major is to navigate the still-chilly waters of 2024 as spending on its flagship China Verbund site in Zhanjiang continues and project pipelines face ever-tougher scrutiny. The company will release its fourth-quarter and full-year results on 23 February but has been careful to manage expectations, cutting its full-year guidance several times ahead of the end of year reporting date and releasing 2023 performance figures in January. PERFORMANCE Revised projections of full-year earnings before interest, taxes (EBIT) and special items of €3.9bn were cut further to €3.81bn, a decline of over 44% year on year, even when comparing against the historically difficult energy price environment of late 2022. in € millions* 2023 2022 % Change Group Sales 68,902 87,327 -21.1 EBIT before special items 3,806 6,878 -44.7 EBIT 2,240 6,548 -65.8 Net income 225 -627 According to analyst Konstantin Wiechert at Baader Bank, the revised projections for full-year earnings indicate that conditions may have softened further at the end of the year as, going by previous quarterly results, the company was on track to meet its targets before then. “According to the company before knowing the December figures it still looked like [EBIT pre-specials] guidance of ~€3.9bn could be achieved, so it is likely one month that really was below expectations,” he said, speaking in January. SPENDING The company has set out plans to cut its capital expenditure budget for 2023 to 2027 by €4bn to €24.8bn, with €1bn of the total of the savings expected to have been found last year and the rest in the 2024-27 period. BASF is expected to announce its 2024-27 capex expectations on Friday, but this year and next are expected to be expensive as the concluding work on its Zhanjiang Verbund site continues. Interest rates in China did not soar to the levels seen in Europe over the last two years, and the country’s slow rebound after lifting zero-COVID restrictions means that labour costs in the country, which led to favourable pricing for workers, according to CEO Martin Brudermuller. Nevertheless, work on the Zhanjiang complex means the spending could be robust over the next two years, according to remarks made by Brudermuller on a December investor call. “You optimize a little bit here and there in these two years of heavy investment coming in 2024 and 2025, but it will not change anything in that we have to finish the whole project as such,” he said. “You cannot build 80% of a Verbund and leave the remaining 20%.” Brudermuller has hinted that some manoeuvrability on budget may be achieved by a harsher look at BASF’s project pipeline elsewhere. “We have more projects than money, so that ensures a certain amount of competition,” Brudermuller said in December. “But that is now certainly increasing when we reduce the money available. So, there are more projects, and we look very clearly to see which are the profitable ones, where are some must haves.” Investors and employees will be watching on Friday for news of any further consolidation in its European asset base. PROJECT PIPELINE Another focus for the financial community, given the relative immutability of Zhanjiang spending this year, will be on capex expectations elsewhere, according to Sebastian Bray, a chemicals analyst at Berenberg. “Management comments around capex and working capital in 2024 may prove influential for the share price movement on the day. I believe capex much in excess of €6 billion or comments that working capital improvements recorded in 2023 are largely 'finished' may be taken negatively; the converse also holds, in my view,” he added. ECONOMY The start of the year has seen fairly widespread upticks in pricing across European chemicals markets as a result of disruption to global shipping as a result of tensions in the Red Sea that have limited imports and buoyed domestic demand. The EU in general has become less reliant on imports, with the balance of trade for key products in 2023 firming as a result of the contraction in exports being smaller than the decline in goods volumes flowing into the region. Nevertheless, markets continue to pin hopes on interest rates and inflation as the key drivers of 2024 prosperity, with central bank rate cuts perceived as crucial to allowing a more pronounced recovery to develop. Expectations remain that substantial cuts to rates may only be introduced in the second half of the year, meaning that investor sentiment remains bearish. “I think the swing factor on [BASF] results will be cash flow as much as earnings outlook, where the market has settled into a consensus of a grinding, H2-weighted recovery. 2024 will be a year of high capex for BASF, which may temporarily necessitate funding the dividend out of reserves or divestment proceeds,” he said. According to Brudermuller, the European chemicals industry has lost 25% of its volumes since the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war, with some of that due to energy pricing and cheaper product elsewhere, and part due to lower orders due to customers’ own woes. “I would expect that capacities are lost for good in the European chemical industry.,” Brudermuller said in January. …The industry is still lagging a bit behind reality. I would expect that we will see some movement in the industry in 2024,” he added. Conditions in Europe are gradually thawing, with optimism ticking up, the general trend continuing toward inflation cooling in spite of the impact of the Red Sea crisis, and eurozone private sector activity drawing closer to stabilising. With little signs of a substantial rebound in underlying demand conditions, the first half of the year may remain difficult for the sector, prompting strict discipline on spending. “Without giving guidance now, we have said that the start to 2024 will not be easy. I think that the closer we get to 2024, the more likely it looks that 2024 will be another difficult year,” Brudermuller said. Focus article by Tom Brown Thumbnail image shows flags flying at BASF headquarters, Ludwigshafen, Germany (picture credit: RONALD WITTEK/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

22-Feb-2024

Brazil’s Unigel gets green light from creditors for debt restructuring

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Unigel has agreed a Brazilian reais (R) 3.9 billion ($791 million) debt restructuring with its creditors, which has saved the beleaguered styrenics, acrylics and fertilizer producer from filing for bankruptcy for the time being. The agreement includes raising a new $100 million credit line that will mature in 2027, and give its shareholders “economic benefits corresponding” to 50% of the company, it said. An intention to improve the company’s governance structure is also included, although Unigel did not disclose further details. The restructuring will consist of the issuance of new debt securities and participatory securities in exchange for the cancellation of current debts. One-third of Unigel’s creditors, those with earlier maturities, have agreed to the deal and will apply for 90-day protection to finalize it, which has been made possible under Brazil's financial laws. “The plan will allow the improvement of the company's capital structure, with an increase in its liquidity and a significant reduction in leverage, in order to guarantee the continuity of the business plan that was severely impacted by the crisis in the global petrochemical industry,” said Unigel’s CEO, Roberto Noronha. CFO André Gaia said the new funds will be partly directed to finalizing projects such as Unigel's sulphuric acid plant at Camacari in the state of Bahia. Construction has been on hold since 2023 when the company's financial position deteriorated. The plant is 80% complete, and when fully operational it should produce around 450,000 tonnes/year. REVIVALUnigel’s fortunes took a turn for the worse in 2023 on the back of high input costs – especially at its natural gas-intensive fertilizer operations – poor demand and low prices. It has not published a financial report since Q1 2023, something contemplated under Brazilian financial law for companies under stress. After a poor Q1, Fitch and S&P both lowered the company’s credit ratings several times and put Unigel’s debt obligations at the lowest level to indicate a high probability of default. However, “intense negotiations” with creditors that began in October, after Unigel failed to pay a coupon on one of its bonds, appeared to bear fruit in November when it reversed its decision to shut down the Bahia fertilizers plant. For that to take place, Unigel’s talks with its creditors were accompanied by talks with the government and its appointees to lead the state-owned energy major Petrobras, which supplies natural gas to Unigel. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has repeatedly said that Brazil needs a stronger fertilizer industry as is too dependent on imports to cover booming demand from its growing agricultural sector.  The sector has made Brazil one of the world’s breadbaskets and accounts for around a quarter of the country's output. Although details have not been made public, in December, the two companies agreed a tolling agreement for Unigel’s fertilizers plants in Camacari and Laranjeiras, in the state of Sergipe. The two plants were leased from Petrobras in 2019. Capacity at the Bahia plant is 475,000 tonnes/year for ammonia and 475,000 tonnes/year for urea. The Laranjeiras facility has a capacity of 650,000 tonnes/year of urea, 450,000 tonnes/year of ammonia, and 320,000 tonnes/year of ammonium sulphate (AS). The Petrobras-Unigel agreement in December came just weeks after Unigel charged Petrobras for its “unbearable natural gas prices” when it explained to workers at the Camacari plant about redundancies resulting from its closure. As part of the talks with its creditors, Unigel divested its Mexican subsidiary which produces acrylic sheet Plastiglas for an undisclosed amount in December. With an expected improvement in chemicals and fertilizers prices and a helping hand from Petrobras and/or the Brazilian government, Unigel may have managed to avoid a bankruptcy which many had taken for granted a few months ago. At the annual meeting of the Latin American Petrochemical and Chemical Association (APLA), held in Sao Paulo in November, one petrochemicals source foresaw this week’s events. “Unigel has been in financial trouble many times before, and it always got through them. This time looks bad, but it may yet again save the day,” the source said. Focus article by Jonathan Lopez Thumbnail shows Brazilian money. Image by RHJPhtotos.

21-Feb-2024

PODCAST: How Red Sea and Panama Canal troubles influence chemicals and LNG

BARCELONA (ICIS)–Chemicals and liquefied natural gas (LNG) players are switching from a global to a more regional approach to their markets as logistics challenges caused by the Red Sea attacks and Panama Canal drought persist. Red Sea disruption may not end until 2025 Some US chemical prices rising as Panama Canal restrictions continue Poor downstream demand caps increases Europe isocyanates and polyols react to logistics pressures Margins rising for European producers as purchasers switch to local sourcing LNG prices are falling despite logistics disruption LNG markets now becoming more regional LNG globally expected to be oversupplied by 2027-2028 as wave of new capacity starts up In this Think Tank podcast, Will Beacham interviews Ed Cox, ICIS senior editor for LNG, Umberto Torresan, ICIS analyst for isocyanates and polyols, and Adam Yanelli, ICIS senior news reporter. Visit the ICIS Logistics: impact on chemical and energy markets Topic Page. 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.

21-Feb-2024

Saudi Arabia’s December oil exports fall 16%; total shipments down 9.7%

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Saudi Arabia’s oil exports in December declined by 15.8% year on year to riyal (SR) 72.0bn ($19.2bn) amid output cuts, with its share to total overseas shipments slipping by 5.3 percentage points to 73.1%, official data showed on Wednesday. Overall exports for the last month of 2023 declined by 9.7% year on year to SR98.5bn, according to the Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics. The country, which is the biggest crude exporter in the world and the de facto leader of oil cartel OPEC, has extended its voluntary oil production cut of 1m bbl/day by another three months to March 2024 amid the global economic slowdown. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports (including re-exports) in December 2023 grew by 12.0% year on year to SR26.5bn, with shipments of products of chemical and allied industries posting a 5.5% increase, while those categorized under “plastics, rubber and articles thereof” fell by 7.6%. These two categories accounted for a combined 53.7% of Saudi Arabia’s total non-oil merchandise exports in December. China was Saudi Arabia’s biggest trading partner in December, with about a 15% share to total exports, followed by Japan and India, with shares of 11.0% and 8.8%. respectively. Total merchandise imports for the month declined by 7.1% year on year to SR60.4bn. ($1 = SR3.75)

21-Feb-2024

Japan January chemical exports up 11%; overall shipments at record high

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Japan's chemical shipments in January rose by 11.2% year on year to yen (Y) 865.9bn ($5.8bn), with overall exports hitting a record high for the month, thus, easing some concerns over Asia's highly industrialised economy which tipped into a technical recession in the second half of 2023. Automobile exports up 16% year on year Shipments to the US, China post double-digit growths Japan loses position to Germany as world's third-largest economy in 2023 January exports of organic chemicals rose by 16.5% year on year to Y169.5bn, while shipments of plastic materials were up by 16.1% at Y221.3bn, preliminary data from Japan’s Ministry of Finance (MOF) showed. By volume, exports of plastic materials were up by 10.5% at 377,957 tonnes, the ministry said in a statement. Overall exports in January rose by 11.9% year on year to Y7.33tr, while imports declined by 9.6% at Y9.09tr, resulting in a monthly trade deficit of Y1.76tr. Total shipments to the US, Japan’s largest export market in January, rose by 15.6% year on year, while those to China were up by 29.2%. The increase in overall exports last month was supported by the 16.1% year on year in increase in motor vehicles to Y1.18tr. Japan is the world’s biggest car exporter. EXPORTS FUEL RECOVERY HOPES The robust exports data for January could provide a potential buffer against any further contraction of the economy, which shrank at an annualized pace of 0.4% in the last three months of 2023. The economy was in technical recession after contracting for a second consecutive quarter from the 3.3% fall recorded in July-September 2023, amid sustained weakness in private consumption and business spending. Private spending, the largest component of Japan’s GDP, declined by 0.2% quarter on quarter in October-December 2023, marking its third straight quarter of decline. "Rising inflation continues to weigh on consumer spending," banking group Citi said in a note. "However, the Bank of Japan does not appear to be too concerned about the recent weakness of private consumption, saying that strong wage hikes this spring would likely improve the household income environment going forward." On a year-on-year basis, Japan posted a Q4 GDP growth of 1.0% year on year, markedly slower than the growth seen in the previous two preceding quarters. In real terms, the size of the economy shrank slightly to Y557.3tr in Q4 2023 but was higher than pre-pandemic peak of Y556.3tr in Q2 2019, Singapore-based UOB Global Economics & Markets Research said in a note. "However, in [US] dollar terms, with the significant weakening of the yen, Japan lost its position as the third largest economy, being overtaken by Germany," it said. In 2023, the Japanese yen slumped by around 11% in value against the US dollar, posting the biggest decline among other major currencies, as the Bank of Japan maintained its key interest rate at -0.1%, while others, led by the US, had had aggressively increased rates in a bid to temper inflation. A weaker currency, however, is a boon for exports. At 04:38 GMT, the yen was trading at Y149.96 against the US dollar, after weakening past Y150 on 13 February for the first time since November last year. The yen had weakened to an all-time low of Y151.655 against the greenback on 14 November 2023. Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman Thumbnail image: Japan's 10,000-yen notes and US' $10 notes – 6 June 2016 (Franck Robichon/EPA/Shutterstock)

21-Feb-2024

LyondellBasell to lease California plant to produce recycled resins from waste

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–LyondellBasell has acquired a recycling plant in California from PreZero in which it plans to produce post-consumer recycled resins from plastic waste, the US chemicals major said on Tuesday. Financial details were not disclosed. The plant will be fully taken over by LyondellBasell in 2025. It will have a production capacity of 50 million pounds/year (25,000 tonnes/year) of recycled resins. “The transaction includes leasing the processing facility in Jurupa Valley, California … LYB will offer these recycled polymers under its CirculenRecover brand, part of the company's Circulen portfolio of products that enable the circular economy,” it added. LyondellBasell’s Executive Vice-President for the circular economy, Yvonne van der Laan, added the company was aiming to “build upon our existing experience in plastic recycling in Europe” to meet US’ growing demand for recycled products. In October 2023, LyondellBasell acquired a 25% stake in Cyclyx, a joint venture between energy major ExxonMobil and Agilyx. Additional reporting by Emily Friedman Thumbnail shows bales of recycled plastic. Image by Shutterstock. 

20-Feb-2024

INSIGHT: Chemical and energy intensive industries seek a ‘reboot’ of EU industrial policy

LONDON (ICIS)–Basic industry and trade unions understandably are increasingly and deeply concerned about Europe’s industrial landscape. The EU has an industrial policy, and it is enshrined in the ‘Green Deal’ and other objectives outlined by Brussels – often at very great length. But ambition from within the bloc to support industry has by no means been met with effective action either at the European or the member state level. Businesses were telling Brussels earlier this month that not only has a fragmented regulatory environment made it less attractive for companies to invest in the EU, but a lack of ambition for the Single Market has stifled business opportunity. On Tuesday (20 February) chemical industry leaders and trade union representatives met European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen and Belgium’s Prime Minister, Alexander de Croo at the BASF site in Antwerp to press home their concerns and launch the ‘Antwerp Declaration for a European Industrial Deal”. The companies and organisations represented at the event support a European Industrial Deal to complement the Green Deal, more effectively putting industry at the forefront of the climate agenda. “There is an urgent need for clarity, predictability and confidence in Europe and its industrial policy,” they say. In the midst of Europe’s economic slump and energy crisis, the lack of industrial ambition within the EU’s framework policies has helped shift companies’ strategic thinking. It has put brakes on investment and forced multinationals to look elsewhere. Companies may not necessarily want to shift further from the European market but the reality is that they are. INEOS chairman and majority owner, Jim Ratcliffe, who was in Antwerp, said in a letter to von der Leyen that Europe is “sleepwalking towards offshoring its industry, jobs, investments, and emissions”. The European chemicals sector struggles to compete with other markets, he added. Investment has been driven away by carbon taxes while the US has used a carrot and stick approach to improve its carbon footprint. There will be little left of the industry if the European government does not address the high energy costs, carbon taxes and lack of renewal that impacts the sector, Ratcliffe said. INEOS is investing heavily in its Project One cracker project in Antwerp but has faced environmental obstacles brought to court. Ratcliffe suggested that they demonstrate the flawed European approach. The EU has pushed its green, low carbon agenda hard and sought to carry the energy intensive industries with it but confusion and stasis on the energy front, including the inability to push harder and faster for local and regional renewable energy capabilities is a major headache for producers. To meet climate neutrality by 2050, and even earlier targets, investment in renewables will have to increase markedly. Permitting of energy projects will have to accelerate. Chemical companies and those in other energy-intensive sectors are expected to invest in lower-carbon manufacturing without the assurance that power will be available for their facilities. The declaration, signed by more than 70 business leaders wants member state governments and the next European Commission and Parliament to put an Industrial Deal at the core of the 2024-29 European strategic agenda. It makes suggestions on the main thrust of the deal. The signatories are looking for a “reboot” of industrial investment in Europe. “Basic industries in Europe are grappling with historical challenges: demand is declining, investments in the continent are stalling, production has dropped significantly, and sites are threatened," said BASF chief Martin Brudermuller. "We want to drive the transformation of our companies." Insight by Nigel Davis

20-Feb-2024

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