Top 10 Challenges in Global Supply Chain for Chemical Trade

12 min read


In the interconnected landscape of global commerce, the trade of chemicals has long played a pivotal role, powering diverse industries from agriculture to healthcare. The history of international chemical trade dates back to the early 20th century when industrial advancements necessitated the global movement of raw materials and finished products. Over the decades, this trade has evolved, influenced by major regulatory milestones such as the establishment of the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993 and the implementation of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) in 2003. These policies have shaped the standards and practices that govern the safe and efficient transportation of chemicals across borders.

Despite the strides made, the international trade of chemicals is fraught with challenges. Regulatory hurdles, safety concerns, and environmental considerations are just a few of the complexities that companies must navigate. For instance, the REACH regulation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals) in the European Union imposes stringent requirements that impact global supply chains. Additionally, incidents like the Beirut port explosion in 2020 underscore the critical importance of adhering to safety protocols in chemical storage and transport. In 2015, the explosion at the Tianjin port in China, which resulted in significant loss of life and economic damage, highlighted the dire consequences of lapses in chemical logistics.
Understanding and addressing these challenges is paramount for ensuring seamless operations and fostering sustainable growth. Today, forward-thinking companies like Elchemy are revolutionizing the industry with tech-enabled solutions and an unwavering commitment to excellence. By leveraging advanced data analytics, automation, and innovative logistics strategies, Elchemy is setting new benchmarks in the safe and efficient transport of chemicals. Their efforts are crucial in shaping the future of global chemical trade logistics, ensuring that this vital sector continues to thrive amidst an ever-evolving regulatory and operational landscape.

We delve into the intricacies of international chemical trade logistics, examining the key hurdles and exploring how innovative partnerships are driving progress in this essential industry. Discover how companies like Elchemy are not only overcoming these challenges but also setting the stage for a more sustainable and efficient future in global chemical trade.

Regulatory Compliance

In the intricate landscape of international chemical trade, businesses often find themselves entangled in a complex web of regulations across various countries. These regulations encompass requirements such as obtaining an Importer Exporter Code (IEC), adhering to customs documentation standards, and meeting quality standards and certifications like BIS and FSSAI. Additionally, businesses must comply with Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, secure export licences for restricted items, and follow stringent labelling and packaging requirements. Coordination with export promotion councils, adherence to the Duty Drawback Scheme, compliance with trade agreements and tariff regulations, and navigating anti-dumping and trade remedies are also critical aspects that demand meticulous attention.
Failure to comply with these multifaceted regulations can lead to severe consequences, including costly delays, penalties, and disruptions in the supply chain. For instance, in 2015, a major Personal Care chemicals manufacturing company from India faced significant fines and shipment delays due to non-compliance with European Union REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals) regulations. Elchemy addresses these challenges by automating documentation and providing real-time updates, ensuring businesses navigate regulatory hurdles efficiently and maintain compliance effortlessly.

Freight Price Fluctuations

In the global chemical trade arena, freight price fluctuations loom as a significant challenge, presenting businesses with erratic transportation costs influenced by geopolitical tensions, capacity constraints, and shifts within the shipping industry. Notably, the current geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, stemming from the Israel-Hamas conflict, have exacerbated freight prices, particularly due to disruptions in key maritime routes such as the Suez Canal. With an estimated 12% of global trade passing through the Suez Canal annually and 30% of global shipping container traffic utilizing this route, the repercussions of such disruptions reverberate across the entire logistics network. During the COVID-19 pandemic also , the closure of ports and restrictions on travel led to unprecedented spikes in freight rates, disrupting supply chains globally. Such instances highlight the critical importance of effectively managing freight costs in the chemical trade sector.
These unpredictable variations in freight prices significantly impact the cost of transporting chemicals, posing complexities in budgeting and pricing strategies for businesses. Maintaining stable pricing for customers and efficiently managing supply chains becomes a daunting task amidst such volatile market conditions. Through logistics optimization, contract negotiation, and real-time insights, Elchemy helps partners mitigate freight cost variability, ensuring operational resilience in dynamic trade environments.

Documentation Complexity

Navigating the intricacies of international chemical trade demands meticulous attention to documentation. Each shipment requires a plethora of permits, certificates, and customs paperwork, subject to diverse and frequently changing regulatory requirements across countries. For instance, essential documents needed for exporting goods from India include the Commercial Invoice, Packing List, Bill of Lading / Airway Bill, Shipping Bill, Certificate of Origin, and more.
This documentation process is inherently time-consuming and error-prone, with mistakes potentially leading to significant customs delays, financial penalties, or shipment rejections. Moreover, the manual handling of documents amplifies the risk of human error, miscommunication, and lost paperwork, exacerbating the challenges faced by businesses striving to maintain smooth operations and regulatory compliance. In this landscape, Elchemy emerges as a solution provider, simplifying documentation management through its digital platform. By automating processes and ensuring accuracy, Elchemy reduces administrative burdens, minimizes delays, and facilitates seamless compliance for its partners in the global chemical trade industry.

Export Documentation complexities.


Safety and Security

Ensuring the safety and security of chemical transportation is paramount due to the inherent risks associated with handling hazardous substances. Accidents or leaks during international chemical trade pose significant challenges, with potential consequences ranging from environmental damage to personal injury and financial liabilities. Regulatory bodies impose stringent requirements to mitigate these risks, further complicating transportation logistics. The Beirut port explosion in 2020 serves as a poignant reminder of the catastrophic consequences that can result from mishandling chemicals during transportation or storage. This tragic incident, which led to extensive loss of life and widespread destruction, highlights the urgent need for robust safety protocols in the handling and transport of hazardous materials.
In response to these challenges, Elchemy prioritizes safety and security by leveraging advanced technologies and stringent protocols. Through real-time tracking and monitoring capabilities, Elchemy offers transparency and peace of mind, effectively mitigating risks and safeguarding assets and personnel throughout the transportation process.

Product Classification

Accurate product classification in the chemical trade is a critical yet challenging task, as chemical products must be categorized based on various criteria, including toxicity, flammability, and environmental impact. Each classification comes with specific regulatory requirements that dictate how the product must be handled, stored, transported, and labelled. One key system used globally is the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), which standardizes the classification and labelling of chemicals to ensure their safe use and transport. Other important frameworks include the European Union’s REACH and country-specific regulations like the United States’ Hazard Communication Standard (HCS).
Incorrect classification can lead to severe consequences, such as regulatory fines, safety hazards, and environmental damage. It can also result in shipment delays, rejected goods, and increased liability for businesses. Given the complex and ever-evolving nature of chemical regulations across different jurisdictions, ensuring correct classification requires specialized knowledge and constant vigilance. Elchemy assists its partners in accurately classifying chemical products, leveraging its expertise in regulatory compliance and maintaining operational efficiency.

Cultural and Language Barriers

Engaging in international chemical trade entails navigating a myriad of cultural and language barriers, significantly impacting business operations. These barriers often lead to communication challenges, where misunderstandings or misinterpretations of requirements and expectations occur.For instance, An Argentina-based chemical manufacturer sourcing materials from China. Despite China’s prominence as a global chemical manufacturing hub, the cultural and language differences pose significant challenges. Mandarin, the main native language of most Chinese suppliers (Greater than 70%), contrasts sharply with Spanish, spoken by the Argentine buyers. This language barrier often leads to delays and miscommunications, sometimes resulting in shipment delays and financial penalties due to misinterpreted specifications or requirements.
Miscommunication can result in errors, delays, and strained relationships, ultimately affecting the efficiency and success of trade operations. Moreover, language barriers complicate the interpretation of technical documents, regulatory requirements, and contractual terms, increasing the risk of non-compliance and operational mishaps. Elchemy facilitates effective communication across borders by leveraging its diverse team fluent in multiple languages and cultures. Elchemy helps partners navigate cultural nuances seamlessly, strengthening relationships with customers and stakeholders, and ensuring smooth and efficient trade operations.

Environmental Sustainability

The environmental impact of chemical transportation is a pressing concern, significantly contributing to pollution and accelerating climate change. The logistics involved in moving chemicals across vast distances typically involve high energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, leading to a substantial carbon footprint. For example, container ships, a primary mode of transport for chemicals globally, can emit between 10 to 50 grams of CO2 per ton-mile, with large container ships averaging around 16 grams of CO2 per ton-mile. This contributes significantly to global emissions, highlighting the environmental cost of international trade logistics.
Moreover, incidents of spills or leaks during transportation can cause severe ecological damage, affecting wildlife and contaminating water sources. A notable example is the 2011 Rena oil spill in New Zealand, where a container ship ran aground, spilling oil and hazardous materials, leading to widespread environmental damage. These environmental risks are increasingly under scrutiny by regulators and the public, driving the need for more sustainable practices. Elchemy takes a proactive stance towards environmental sustainability by optimizing transport routes, reducing emissions, and offering eco-friendly packaging solutions.

Technological Integration

Traditional procurement processes in the chemical trade are often plagued by inefficiencies and fragmentation. These outdated methods typically involve manual handling of numerous documents, coordination across disparate systems, and reliance on outdated communication channels. The lack of integration leads to delays, miscommunication, and a higher likelihood of errors in order processing and inventory management. Additionally, without real-time visibility into the supply chain, businesses struggle to respond swiftly to market changes or disruptions, ultimately impacting their competitiveness and operational efficiency.
Elchemy aims to revolutionise the global chemical supply chain through technological integration. Its digital platform provides a centralized solution, automating tasks, offering real-time tracking of orders, and providing comprehensive insights. This platform allows businesses to access all necessary documents, data, and shipment tracking information in one place, significantly enhancing operational efficiency. Moreover, Elchemy’s recently released customer-facing tool offers users an intuitive interface to manage their shipments seamlessly. For a demo of this innovative tool, click here.

Technology advancement in Supply Chain of Chemicals


Currency Fluctuations

Currency fluctuations present a significant challenge in international chemical trade, as the value of currencies can vary dramatically over short periods. These fluctuations can dramatically affect the cost of importing or exporting chemicals, creating unpredictability in pricing and profit margins. For businesses operating on thin margins, even minor shifts in exchange rates can result in substantial financial losses. In 2018, the Turkish lira experienced a sharp decline, causing import costs to skyrocket for local businesses. This sudden change led to financial strain and renegotiations of contracts in various industries, including the chemical sector. Similarly, the Russian ruble’s volatility in 2014, driven by falling oil prices and geopolitical tensions, significantly affected international trade dynamics.
The volatility of currency markets adds a layer of complexity to financial planning and budgeting, making it difficult to set stable prices and manage cash flow effectively. This financial uncertainty can also strain relationships with international suppliers and customers, as sudden cost increases or decreases might lead to renegotiations or contractual disputes. Elchemy provides strategic support to its partners, employing currency hedging strategies and flexible pricing models. By stabilizing costs and protecting profit margins, Elchemy helps partners navigate currency fluctuations effectively.

Trade Tariffs and Trade Wars

Trade tariffs and trade wars present significant challenges for businesses involved in international chemical trade. Government-imposed tariffs can suddenly increase the cost of importing or exporting chemicals, eroding profit margins and making it difficult to remain competitive. Trade wars between countries exacerbate these issues, leading to retaliatory tariffs, regulatory changes, and increased uncertainty in the global market. A notable example is the U.S. Section 301 tariffs imposed on Chinese goods starting in 2018, which led to substantial increases in the cost of imported chemicals. This policy, part of a broader trade war, resulted in tariffs on over $250 billion worth of Chinese imports, including a wide range of chemical products. The impact was significant, with U.S. companies facing increased costs, supply chain disruptions, and the need to find alternative suppliers, often at higher prices.
Elchemy provides market intelligence and strategic guidance to help partners navigate trade tariffs and geopolitical challenges effectively. By adapting supply chain strategies and mitigating cost increases, Elchemy helps partners maintain operational efficiency and ensure business continuity amidst changing trade dynamics.


Navigating the global supply chain for chemical trade is a complex and multifaceted challenge, shaped by regulatory compliance, safety and security concerns, and fluctuating economic factors. The intricate landscape demands businesses to be agile and resilient, continually adapting to regulatory changes, managing freight price volatility, and ensuring the accuracy of documentation. Moreover, the sector faces pressing issues such as environmental sustainability and technological integration, both of which require innovative solutions to maintain operational efficiency and reduce the ecological footprint.
In this evolving environment, companies like Elchemy play a crucial role by leveraging advanced technology, providing real-time insights, and ensuring robust safety protocols. Their proactive approach towards regulatory compliance, cost management, and environmental sustainability sets new standards for the industry. By fostering effective communication and collaboration across borders, they mitigate cultural and language barriers, further enhancing the efficiency and reliability of global chemical trade.
As the industry moves forward, embracing these innovations and addressing the outlined challenges will be essential for sustainable growth. The commitment to excellence, continuous improvement, and strategic adaptability will enable businesses to thrive in the dynamic global market, ensuring the safe and efficient transport of chemicals worldwide.

Elchemy overcomes these supply chain challenges with technology in the forefront.

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Elchemy is your high-trust gateway to the Indian chemical manufacturers. We offer best payment terms, seasoned chemical consultants, fastest turnaround times and minimum supply chain risks.

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