Pakistan is mostly self-sufficient in the production of inorganic chemicals such as sulphuric acid, with the surplus exported as well. Used by several industries, from auto to agriculture, sulphuric acid is one of the largest volume industrial chemicals produced in the world with a market size that was valued at over $10 billion in 2016. Its global demand is projected to rise at an annual rate of about 2 percent per year. Fertilisers accounted for 60 percent of total world consumption in 2017. It is also used in salts, pigments, and dyes used by the textile sector.
Justus von Liebig was a German chemist in the 1800s who is considered by many the founder of organic chemistry. He once said “the commercial prosperity of a nation can be measured by the amount of sulphuric acid it consumes”. This sentiment was echoed more recently in a 2014 paper regarding management of Pakistan’s chemicals in the Research Journal of South Asian Studies. The paper highlighted that the demand of sulphuric acid is like a barometer of industry in any country. It is of great commercial importance for the a myriad of industries, which include plastics, explosives, paints, leather tanning, and treatment of cotton seeds in addition to fertilisers and textiles.
Therefore the 25 percent dip in FY17 from FY16 is a cause for concern which appears to have flown below the radar. The latest numbers posted by PBS for July to April FY18 show a continuation of the trend as production numbers have fallen by a further 10 percent. The decline of production is not supplemented by imports as they have fallen by 30 percent and are at a paltry sum of $65,000. This at a time when LSM is up by nearly 6 percent.
Pakistan Chemical Manufacturer’s Association has recently been working towards the setting up of a petrochemical complex since Pakistan has made considerable progress in basic inorganic chemicals and has sufficient capacity. However, in moving forward along the value chain, the basic building blocks of the chemical sector must not be overlooked. Except for soda ash and hydrochloric acid that showed mild growth, most other chemicals have declined or stagnated. Chemical products are important for national economy and the strong dependence between chemical industry and other industries is mutually reinforcing.