Stock-taking 2021 of the chemical-pharmaceutical industry

Successfully withstanding fierce headwinds


Die Branche

Wirtschaftliche Lage

Successfully withstanding fierce headwinds


16 December 2021 | Pressemitteilung

The chemical-pharmaceutical industry presented its results for 2021.

The chemical-pharmaceutical industry achieved a strong balance sheet in 2021 despite the corona pandemic and delivery bottlenecks. © Avatar_023 -
The chemical-pharmaceutical industry achieved a strong balance sheet in 2021 despite the corona pandemic and delivery bottlenecks. © Avatar_023 -
  • Production increases by 4.5 percent compared to previous year
  • Turnover grows by 15.5 percent with a robust increase in producer prices (+ 8.5 percent)
  • Employment rises slightly to 466,500 jobs
  • Forecast for 2022: Production increases by 2 percent, turnover by 5 percent to 231 billion euros
  • Coalition agreement with positive approaches to energy and climate policy, approval procedures and chemicals strategy
  • Recording of the VCI annual press conference 2021 (German language)

Despite the Coronavirus pandemic and the associated supply bottlenecks, as well as the recent surge in prices affecting energy and raw materials, the chemical-pharmaceutical industry delivered a strong performance in 2021. This successful result extends to almost all product areas:

Production rose by 4.5 percent compared to the previous year, and turnover increased by 15.5 percent to approximately 220 billion euros thanks to a solid rise in producer prices (+ 8.5 percent), according to the German chemical industry association Verband der Chemischen Industrie (VCI). Simultaneously, the cost of naphtha alone increased by 70 percent, and renewable raw materials, metals or minerals were also many times more expensive than in the previous year.

Economic indicators for the chemical and pharmaceutical industry for 2021

The underlying basis for this result was that the industry’s industrial customers continued their recovery course on all continents. Global demand for chemicals – and for vaccines produced in Germany – developed with a correspondingly positive trend. The number of employees increased slightly (0.5 percent) by roughly 2,000 jobs, to 466,500.

“Our industry has withstood significant headwind and achieved a remarkable result. This underscores how important a strong chemical industry is for Germany as an industrialised country. Without us, no one gets by; but with us, everyone gets ahead,” said VCI President Christian Kullmann.

Forecast for 2022: The VCI also anticipates a positive development in the industry for the coming year. The chemical association considers an increase in production of 2 percent and an increase in turnover of 5 percent – to 231 billion euros – to be possible. “Despite various adverse factors, the majority of our companies expect to achieve growth, both at home and abroad, in 2022. Especially overseas, they expect increased sales,” emphasised VCI President Kullmann.

Forecast: Economic indicators for the chemical and pharmaceutical industry in 2022

The VCI’s forecast takes into account the results of a recent member survey. It revealed that the overriding situation has deteriorated in recent months: 30 percent of companies are already reporting slight cuts, while 5 percent are even making significant cuts. There is no shortage of orders, but the bottlenecks in primary products and logistics have worsened. Due to supply chain issues, 35 percent of companies have had to reduce their production, while 10 percent have temporarily shut down plants. However, the bottlenecks have consequences above all for the industry’s customers: Over 70 percent of companies can only process orders with delays, while 39 percent cannot fulfil them at all. According to the VCI, companies do not expect the situation to ease until the summer of 2022.

The rapid increase in gas and electricity prices in recent months is also causing problems for the industry: 61 percent of those companies surveyed reported that energy prices currently represent a significant hindrance for their operations. Companies are trying to pass on the rising costs to the customers in a timely manner. However, 16 percent do not see themselves in a position to do so. 67 percent said they would be able to pass on at least some of the costs. “The situation is likely to remain critical for some time. The majority of our companies do not believe that energy costs will ease significantly in the coming year,” explained the VCI’s President.

Coalition agreement: first the word, then the deed

With the coalition agreement, the new federal government has presented a host of suitable approaches to transformation, but the real test for this tripartite alliance will be to translate these into political action. Now, after the word must come the deed, emphasised Kullmann. Therefore, the VCI President welcomes the announced abolition of the EEG levy at the beginning of 2023, in order to reduce the price of electricity. “It is high time to muzzle this bureaucratic monster,” Kullmann emphasised. Above all, small and medium-sized businesses would benefit from this. In the chemical industry, this levy adds up to roughly 1.2 billion euros per year.

In the view of the VCI, a massive and significantly accelerated expansion of wind power and photovoltaics is also indispensable for achieving the goal of climate neutrality. However, it must be accompanied by the construction of modern gas-fired power plants because of the political push to phase out coal-fired power generation. “We must not jeopardise the security of supply that we need every hour of every day,” warned the VCI President.

With more than 120 terawatt hours per year, natural gas is not only the most important energy source for the chemical industry, but also an essential raw material: Just under one-third of the natural gas it consumes per year flows into the production plants as raw material. This corresponds to approximately 3.2 million tonnes or 16 percent of all raw materials used by the industry for organic production purposes. In order to achieve carbon neutrality by the middle of the century, the industry wants to adopt a cyclical approach to the use of carbon. The chemical recycling of plastic waste is an important part of this strategy, along with the direct use of CO2 from the air. The VCI, therefore, welcomes the fact that the current federal coalition government is taking a differentiated approach to the importance of chemical recycling and wants to include it as a recycling option in the German Packaging Act (Verpackungsgesetz). The VCI views this step as a paradigm shift for climate policy and the circular economy.

For more private and public investment, however, faster and more efficient approval procedures are needed. The coalition wants to act here and at least halve the length of time needed for this procedure. “We welcome this very much. Approvals are the driving force for innovation and investment.” The idea that less bureaucracy creates more growth is also proven by a recent study by the institute “IW” on behalf of the VCI. If, for example, a company could be incorporated in Germany one day faster than at present, according to one of the results of the IW’s analysis, this could trigger roughly 2 billion euros in additional direct investment.

The VCI also welcomes the fact that the German government wishes to play a constructive role in the debate on the EU chemicals strategy. “It is good and right that the coalition wants to focus on data, figures, facts and on the scientifically prudent principle of risk in this topic,” said Kullmann. “We support the goals of the sustainability strategy for chemicals. But these must be designed in such a way that they are practicable and capable of being planned for companies – especially for our SMEs – and can be implemented in a resource- and cost-efficient manner. Few things are worse for business than uncertainty. We, therefore, need a clear and solid transitional framework.”

The VCI represents the politico-economic interests of over 1,700 German chemical and pharmaceutical companies and German subsidiaries of foreign businesses in contacts with politicians, public authorities, other industries, science and media. In 2020, the industry realised sales of nearly 190 billion euros and employed around 464,400 staff.

Contact: VCI Press Dept., Phone: +49 69 2556-1496, E-Mail: and