The global chemical industry was valued at around $3.4 trillion in 2013. For comparison, this was the same size as Europe’s largest economy of Germany. China and the US are the world’s largest chemical producers, with India, Germany and Japan also significant.
The overall industry can be broadly divided into three main categories:

  • Basic Chemicals
  • Specialty Chemicals
  • Consumer Chemicals

Basic chemicals, also known as “commodity chemicals”, are by far the largest category. They include petrochemicals (derived from oil), polymers (plastics and other manmade fibers), inorganic chemicals and fertilizers.

Specialty chemicals are a category of generally high-value, rapidly growing products with diverse end uses. Examples include electronic chemicals, fine chemicals, industrial gases and adhesives and sealants.

Consumer chemicals are sold directly to the public. They include detergents, soaps, and cosmetics and toiletries.


The global chemical industry and market have both increasingly shifted to Asia in the past several decades, largely due to China’s booming economy. This trend will continue in the next few decades, with other Asian countries such as India projected to see particularly strong gains. The US industry will see significant recovery due to the increasing cheap energy available to the country due to newer extraction methods resulting in a boom in oil and gas production from shale resources.

The Middle East will also see strong gains due to the region’s cheap and abundant energy sources combined with fast growing markets for chemical consuming end-products such as motor vehicles.