Surviving in China’s Chemical Industry: A Guide for International Chemical Companies

February 20, 2020

Although China’s chemical industry growth has receded, the region continues to remain the most profitable for most global chemical companies. The colossal size of the chemical industry in China should not be blindly associated with the sector’s stability. The industry is in the midst of a profound rapid transformation due to stringent investment pools, stricter environmental laws by the government, and changing consumer-demand trends. Furthermore, increasing economic turbulence in the region since mid-2018, related to China’s economic slowdown and the turbulent US–China trade relations, adds new uncertainties in the chemical market dynamics.

Chemical industry

China’s economy is currently moving to a new era of development. After the headlong market expansion in the early 2000s, the chemical market is now focused on consolidated and selective growth. As overcapacity in one of the existing challenges faced, companies looking to make fresh investments in the chemical industry are faced with a more selective appraisal from the Chinese authorities.  Moreover, intensifying competition from the local Chinese chemical market companies who are at advantage due to their lower production costs compared with imports and their greater ease in establishing relationships with key customers poses greater challenges for international chemical companies in China. As critical changes are underway in the chemical market in China, players will have to adopt a new set of strategies to survive and ensure continued growth.

Attaining profitable growth in China’s chemical market

Chemical industry

Prioritize products matching domestic requirements

China’s growth prospects in the future of chemical industry cannot be denied, but the changing chemical market dynamics make market opportunities more nuanced for international companies. This means that international chemical companies need to learn to adapt. One approach to achieve this is to focus on products that match the domestic needs and that the Chinese state is promoting. Chemicals are crucial enablers for strategic growth in industries that China prioritized to gain a major market at a global scale. This includes sectors such as electric vehicles, new energy technologies, and civil aviation among others. International chemical companies must aim to become China’s trusted partners in their innovation plans to bridge technological gaps and set environmental standards in sectors that have a major government backing.

Proactive stakeholder management

International companies that seek to establish their business in China’s chemical industry will need extensive approvals and support from several stakeholders both across the regulatory as well as the business landscape. Ergo, effective stakeholder management becomes vitals especially in the case of building new plants and new product introductions, especially in the regulated products category.  As China currently does not have a process to legitimize the proposed chemical industry investments in a community, the concerns of environmentalists and local communities can only be addressed through hands-on stakeholder management. International companies operating in China’s chemical industry have already set up dedicated teams to identify and manage all the key stakeholders affecting their business.

Re-engineering the existing go-to-market strategies

China’s business landscape is highly relationship driven. So, having a local presence in the country becomes important to capture value from new market opportunities. Companies must seek to establish a tailored distribution approach. Appropriate distribution partner network enables international players in the chemical industry to get closer to customers and also differentiate their products in the increasingly competitive chemical market in China.

Building strategic M&A partnerships

M&A partnerships are the strategic approach to grow more quickly and extensively in the chemical industry in China. This will enable chemical companies to gain organic growth through increased market access and also fill product or technology gaps. Several dynamic mid-sized chemical companies have emerged in China over the recent years. This could present attractive acquisition opportunities for international chemical companies. A dedicated business development team in China can help international players in the chemical industry better meet these motives.

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