US Exports of Polyethylene in 2013

Although the many facilities being built to use feedstocks from shale gas have yet to start up, US exports of polyethylene increased in both 2013 and 2012. US exports of LDPE were up 3% in 2013, to 708,000 tons; exports of LLDPE rose 6%, to 667,000 tons; and exports of HDPE posted a small gain on substantially larger volumes, up 1%, to 1.76 million tons. This followed increases on US exports in 2012 versus 2011 of 9% for LDPE, 7% for LLDPE and 3% for HDPE.

An historical context is informative. Following the financial crisis at the end of 2008, US exports surged in 2009 because of massive polyethylene (and other polymer) imports into China. US shipments of LLDPE and HDPE hit all-time monthly record highs that have not since been exceeded. As the stimulus provided by the Chinese government slowed in 2010 and 2011, so too did US exports to China, and in total.  In 2010, the decline in total US exports by polymer was: LDPE, down 17%; LLDPE, down 3%; HDPE, down 19%. The decline continued in 2011: LDPE, down 3%; LLDPE, down 14%; and HDPE, down 1%.

In 2013, the US’s top four markets for each polymer were Canada, Mexico, China and Brazil, although the destination country ranking in terms of volume varied by polymer. Brazil was a surprisingly strong growth market for US exports in 2013.  China was also a  growth export destination that year, as was Mexico, the latter for LDPE and HDPE. 

Latin America continues to be the largest US regional export destination by far, and shipments to that region increased in both 2013 and 2012. Also of note in 2013 were US shipments of LLDPE and HDPE to both Western Europe and Eastern Europe, which, although  relatively small, were up sharply in 2013 versus 2012.