Economic Upturn Seen in 2003, But CEPE Leaders Express Concern on EU Chemicals Policy

BRUSSELS - Domestic sales of coatings in Europe were flat in 2001 compared to the previous year, while sales of printing ink declined, the European Council of the Paint, Printing Ink and Artists' Colours Industry (CEPE) reported at the organization's recent annual media briefing in Brussels.

CEPE officials said the industry also faces the potential for a major challenge from the European Union's new policy on chemicals, outlined in the much-discussed White Paper, "Strategy for a Future Chemicals Policy of the European Union."

CEPE President Neville Peterson said that while some coatings companies have reported increased sales in the first half of 2002, "a lasting economic upturn is expected only for 2003."

CEPE estimates that European coatings sales in 2001 totaled 5.5 million metric tons, essentially unchanged from 2000. Printing-ink sales were estimated at 960,000 mt, down 2.9% from the year before. The major national coatings markets are Germany, with domestic sales of approximately 1.4 million mt, followed by Italy with 812,000 mt, France with 741,000 mt, and the U.K. with 727,000 mt. Those four countries account for nearly 70% of domestic European sales. Peterson said European Union gross domestic product (GDP) rose just 1.5% in 2001, down from 3.4% in 2000. Growth rates ranged from a high of 5.9% in Ireland to only 0.6% in Germany.

Peterson said industry consolidation remains a major force, as coatings and printing-ink companies look to maintain or increase profits in a challenging business environment. While no "mega-mergers" were seen in the coatings industry in 2001 and 2002, multinational companies "are busy strengthening positions in their core businesses as well as integrating acquisitions of recent years," he said. In Germany, Peterson pointed to increased merger activity involving small and medium-sized coatings companies where owners could find no successors when they retired, or where financial problems developed. "These companies were bought by successful small or medium-sized competitors expanding regionally," he said.

Jacques Warnon, CEPE technical director, said the organization supports the EU chemicals policy's basic aims to ensure the protection of health and the environment, establish a more transparent and workable regulatory framework for the chemicals sector, and stimulate innovation in the European industry. But he said the key factors of time and cost "have to be handled very carefully."

"The most serious concern of the industry is that important substances for the coatings and ink industry may disappear from the market for cost reasons, and not because they are hazardous," Warnon said. "This may even have adverse effects on health and the environment." He noted that the availability of a large number of raw materials is the basis for innovation in the paint and printing-ink industries, and pointed out that "innovation leads to improved technical and environmental performance of its products." Still, Warnon expressed optimism that "By working together, industry and the authorities will create a workable system."