Due to the India-China dispute, the threat of deteriorating trade relations between the two countries has become real. Meanwhile, we expect freight rates to decline in 3Q20 on routes from the Middle East/India to China
The India and China border dispute emerged after the military clash between the two countries on 15 June in Ladakh. The scuffle sparked a ‘boycott of Chinese products’ in India, raising concerns about the deterioration of trade between the two countries, with chemicals not being spared. However, if the disputes escalate, the impact on chemical trade is expected to be limited as only a few chemical products such as paraxylene, sulphuric acid, benzene, and ethylene glycol are traded between the two countries, with paraxylene being the largest chemical product exported from India to China.
Paraxylene is used as feedstock to produce purified terephthalic acid (PTA) and dimethyl terephthalate (DMT), which are used in the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) polymer for the production of polyester fibres. Meanwhile, demand for polyester will surge with the increasing development of PTA units in China, being one of the biggest importers of paraxylene. China sources its paraxylene requirements from South Korea, India, and Japan. India exported 414,000 tonnes of paraxylene to China in 2Q20, accounting for nearly 50% of Indian exports. Going forward, we expect a 40% fall in Indian paraxylene exports to China in 3Q20 due to the stressed environment. This will translate into a decline in paraxylene trade of about 124,000 tonnes on the Middle East/India to China route, thereby putting pressure on freight rates.
Apart from China, India also exports paraxylene to Indonesia, Malaysia, and to the US in a limited quantity. In 1Q20, before the pandemic, India traded 53% of its total paraxylene exports to China, 16.3% to Indonesia, 12.5% to Malaysia and a mere 6.3% to the US. It will be difficult for India to increase export volumes to these countries as demand is limited. Hence, the Indian export market for paraxylene will be affected in the remainder of 2020.
Indeed, it is clear that as a result of the dispute between the dragon and the elephant, there will be an oversupply of paraxylene in India in 3Q20. With high inventories of paraxylene in India, plants will be forced to cut operating rates. China, on the other hand, will have to source paraxylene from other countries as its demand is likely to pick up in 3Q20. Therefore, we expect freight rates to weaken on routes from the Middle East/India to China in 3Q20.