U.S. suffers in chemicals trade

“Lost chemistry” has cost the U.S. chemical industry $36.2 billion since 1997, according to an analysis released by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Arlington, Va. ACC defines the term as the potential chemistry content of goods manufactured outside the U.S. that supplant American exports or replace domestic production.

The largest contributor among downstream industries is apparel, followed by transportation equipment (largely light vehicles). However, notes ACC, the trade balance for plastic and rubber products has deteriorated the most, going from a $271-million trade surplus in 1997 to a shortfall of $3.1 billion in 2005.

In addition, the direct trade balance in chemicals swung from a surplus to a deficit in 2002 and remains in the red (imports exceeded exports by $8.95 billion in 2005), says ACC. Overall, there has been a cumulative net change of $28.1 billion from 1997 to 2005, it reports. The trade deficit in chemicals is centered primarily on pharmaceuticals. Indeed, the trade balance in chemicals otherwise is positive, notes the organization. In 2005, while trade in pharmaceuticals was $14.4 billion in the red, other chemicals provided a $5.5-billion trade surplus — a slip of about $3 billion from the year before related to the high cost of natural gas and the effects of the hurricanes.

All told, lost chemistry and the chemical trade deficit represent 11.7% of direct and indirect industry shipments, says ACC.

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