Domestic demand for styrene is very strong. From 2006 to 2018, China’s export of styrene is very small and its dependence on imports is high. In 2006, China’s import of styrene was 2.343 million tons, and then gradually increased. By 2015, the import of styrene reached a peak of 3.744 million tons, and in 2018, the import dropped sharply to 2.914 million tons, mainly due to the rapid release of new domestic production capacity.
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Before 2006, due to the serious shortage of domestic styrene supply and demand, the import dependence was high, and in 2004 the import dependence was as high as 75%. In 2006, with the release of new domestic production capacity of styrene, domestic import dependence of styrene decreased from 65% in 2005 to 52% in 2006. From 2007 to 2009, the output growth of SM’s main downstream products was faster than that of SM, and most of the new production capacity in 2009 was concentrated in the second half of the year. Although some of the devices were built, they were not formally put into operation, so the import dependence rebounded from 2006 for three consecutive years. From 2010 to 2018, with the expansion of large-scale units in domestic enterprises and the commissioning of a number of new units, the dependence of domestic styrene imports has decreased year by year.
From the monthly import volume of styrene in China, the monthly import volume is relatively balanced, and the monthly import volume remains between 240,000 tons and 310,000 tons, with no seasonal change. Moreover, such a balanced amount of imports shows that the market is very mature, and domestic demand should mainly be based on long-term orders, and domestic recipients have a high acceptance of international market prices, indicating that domestic demand for styrene is mainly hard demand and speculative is not high.
In terms of import and export trade modes, styrene import trade has continued to diversify in recent years, in which the general trade mode occupies the mainstream position. According to the statistical data of 2018, the general trade volume is 2474,000 tons, accounting for 84.9%; the second is the import processing trade, accounting for 219,000 tons, accounting for 7.5%; the third is the bonded regulatory field. The trade volume of import and export goods is 145,000 tons, accounting for 5.0%. From 2014 to 2016, the proportion of general trade modes increased gradually, while the foreign processing trade showed a shrinking trend, which was related to the overall market pattern of domestic demand and export constraints. In 2018, the import volume declined, the proportion of general trade declined, and the foreign processing trade increased, mainly due to the gradual release of domestic capacity, the further decline of import volume and the stimulation of the development of foreign processing trade.
Because of strong market demand and huge market gap, China has provided digestive space for the excess styrene capacity in the world. Many developed countries or regions of petrochemical industry have put their products into our market one after another. China imports styrene mainly from Korea, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Iran, the United States, Singapore and other places. In 2018, due to the imposition of anti-dumping duties on styrene originating in Korea, the United States and Taiwan Province of China, Korea lost its long-standing position as the first exporter of styrene to China. In 2018, the top three countries and regions in the import volume of styrene were Saudi Arabia, Japan and Taiwan Province of China.
In 2008, the top three sources of domestic styrene imports were Korea, Japan and Taiwan Province of China, which accounted for 86% of the total imports of styrene. Starting from 2009, new production units in the Middle East quickly seized market share by virtue of their rich petrochemical resources and low cost advantages. From 2009 to 2012, the proportion of goods in the Middle East increased year by year, and the market share of Japanese and Korean goods was gradually squeezed. Since 2012, Saudi Arabia has imported more styrene than Japan, ranking second. In 2018, there were 761,000 tons of styrene from Saudi Arabia, which became the largest source of styrene imports in China.