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Growing demand for petrochemicals in China creates opportunities for the West

Growing demand for petrochemicals in China creates opportunities for the West

China has surpassed North America and Europe as the largest consumer of petrochemicals in the world, creating opportunities for joint ventures with US and European companies, a report by GlobalData has found. China has established itself as the frontrunner in the global petrochemicals market, largely due to impressive demand from its large population. The demand for basic petrochemicals and major plastics increased by almost 300% between 2000 and 2010, and is further expected to increase by another 90 mln tpa by 2015.
The greatest increase in demand has been for basic petrochemicals and major plastics such as ethylene, propylene, butadiene, benzene, toluene, xylenes, methanol, polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC, polystyrene, expandable polystyrene, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and polyethylene terephthalate. A focus on scale economy and expansion has aided the growth of the petrochemicals industry in China, with producers looking to diversify their product portfolios and reach other demand-rich regions. Government schemes focusing on industrialization and urbanization have also helped, particularly as markets in developed regions such as North America and Europe are struggling due to saturation and a slow recovery from the financial crisis. China has tried to increase its production capacity to match growing demand, but, despite a substantial increase, production growth is falling behind demand growth, necessitating the construction of more petrochemical plants. Companies from other regions are therefore using this opportunity to build presence in region, particularly through the establishment of joint ventures with national companies. As a result, the number of joint ventures involving companies based in China has shot up, with firms seeking a competitive advantage in a tough financial climate racing to gain presence in the fast-growing Asian markets. Producers with operations in Asian markets also benefit from abundant and cheaper natural gas reserves, which help to increase profitability. In return, Chinese national companies often benefit from being able to share more advanced technologies with their joint venture partner, as most of the latest technologies for petrochemicals production are developed by European and US companies.

The petrochemicals industry entered a transitional phase after the global economic slowdown in 2008-2009 severally affected the growth of the industry. After experiencing difficult times during the downturn, petrochemical producers are now focusing on attaining both economies of scale and geographic expansion to gain a competitive advantage. Producers are seeking to create a presence in demand-rich geographies and are diversifying their portfolios to achieve higher growth rates. This has led to an increase in the number of partnership between companies of different regions. Since European and North American producers are grappling with declining demand, they are setting up joint ventures with Asian or Middle Eastern companies to sustain their profit margin. In the recent past, the majority of joint venture deals have happened in the Middle East and Asia Pacific. China has established itself as the largest petrochemicals market owing to impressive demand from its large population. The demand for basic petrochemicals and major plastics increased from 42.051 mln tpa in 2000, to 124.703 mln tpa in 2010, at a CAGR of 11.5%, and is expected to increase to 215.033 mln tpa in 2015, at a CAGR of 11.5%. The growing Chinese demand provides opportunities for producers from other regions to utilize this demand by setting up joint ventures with Chinese companies. The Middle East has also become an important destination for petrochemicals production. The Middle East governments provide subsidies on the feedstocks used for petrochemicals production which makes production significantly cheaper compared to other regions. This has made it difficult for producers in other regions to compete. To deal with this situation, companies from other regions are increasingly partnering with the Middle East companies to gain a cost advantage. Joint ventures in these two regions are expected to increase in the next five years as many of the planned projects in these regions are established under joint ventures.
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