Advanced Look at Western Europe’s HDPE Polymer Imports

Although Eurostat statistics for polymers and other products are published three months after the trade month, an earlier view of import demand and the impact of shipping disruptions in the Red Sea can be obtained from trading partner export statistics.

Eurostat import statistics for March, 2024 will not be published until mid-June. Korea and the US, among other countries, have already their published March export figures. These precede Eurostat import statistics not only because they were published approximately two months sooner, but also because they were published when the shipment left the exporting country, whereas import statistics necessarily incorporate the additional time, which can easily add another month, needed for transit and clearance through customs.

The trends in HDPE polymer exports from Saudi Arabia, Korea and the US to Belgium, Spain and Italy, three top import markets, are shown below. Saudi Arabia has been included because they are a major supplier, and the data is informative, even though their latest export figures are through January.

Note the upward trend in Saudi Arabia’s polymer exports to Belgium through 4Q 2023 but declines to Spain and Italy through that period. January 2024 was a particularly difficult month for shipping in the Red Sea because of US and UK bombing of Houthi sites in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s exports to Belgium eased slightly in January but volumes to Spain and Italy picked up. Korea’s exports to all three countries were particularly low in January 2024, but trended higher to all three destinations in February and March. The data from these two exporters does not indicate major disruption to supply availability.

US exports of HDPE are not impacted by the Red Sea conflict but appear to have taken advantage of any resulting supply constraints on Middle East and Asian producers. Shipments to Belgium rose to a new record in March, 2024; shipments to Spain and Italy eased slightly. Year to date through March 2024, the US reported HDPE exports to the Western European region totaling 163,000 tons, up 52% from 1Q 2023. (Exports of ethylene-alpha-olefin copolymers were an additional 281,000 tons, up 23%.)

The US ships large volumes of HDPE to China. These totaled 228,000 tons through March 2024, up 22%. There was some easing in shipments to China through the first quarter, as more material shifted to Europe and other destinations.

From International Trader Publications’ HDPE World Trade Analysis, a continuously updated analysis of global trade based on the latest statistics from all available countries, and, the US Polymer Trade Report, a monthly analysis by trading partner countries and region of US imports/exports of all commodity polymers, recyclable polymers and fabricated plastic products.