Interview with the President of Expoquimia, Carles Navarro: "Expoquimia is an exceptional opportunity for the chemical industry to assert itself and showcase its breakthroughs and innovation"

06 November 2019

Carles Navarro

Fira de Barcelona's Board of Directors appointed Carles Navarro as president of Expoquimia's organising committee in February this year.

Fira de Barcelona's Board of Directors appointed Carles Navarro as president of Expoquimia's organising committee in February this year. The president of the FEIQUE (Business Federation of the Spanish Chemical Industry) and the General Director of BASF Española, Navarro has a profound understanding of the chemical industry in both business and more theoretical terms, as he obtained a degree in Chemical Engineering at the IQS (Chemical Institute of Sarrià).

The 19th Expoquimia fair will be held in 2020, the first under your presidency. What goals have been set for next year's event?

I believe that the first goal you should set yourself when assuming a commitment to head a project of this magnitude must always be, with humility, to attempt to enrich it with your knowledge and experience, and I think this could be my greatest contribution. My desire is for Expoquimia 2020 to be ambitious, for it to achieve its objectives and for it to demonstrate that it continues to exhibit strength as a great commercial and promotional showcase for the chemical industry, as a major platform for the scientific and environmental dissemination of the industry and as an essential meeting point for the companies within the industry, customers and suppliers.

You were appointed president of the FEIQUE in October 2018. In this regard, what analysis of the Spanish chemical industry have your performed?

The chemical industry currently constitutes an opportunity for the present and future of sustainable growth in Spain. It's one of the strategic industries of our economy, but also one of the industry´s main and best-consolidated powers in Europe as a whole, in terms of its influence, the generation of wealth and high-quality employment, its nature as an exporter and its well-established commitment to investment in RDI. Another highly important factor is that it acts as a driver for other industries, generating a wide range of auxiliary companies and advanced innovation, technology and engineering services around it.

Focusing on the data, we should highlight that its turnover exceeded 65.6 billion euros in 2018, 4% more than in 2017, and the 3,300 companies now generate 13.4% of the gross industrial product. It's also the second largest exporter in the Spanish economy, with 57.5% of its production revenue coming from international markets. It's also the primary RDI investor in the industry as a whole, as it accounts for 25% of the investments devoted to this area.

The chemical industry is undoubtedly essential for an advanced economy such as Spain's, but it's also essential in the social sphere, due to its capacity to create stable and high-quality employment, as 93% of its contracts are permanent and the average annual salary exceeds 37,400 euros per worker.
If we look to the future, the analysis is also positive, despite the large number of global uncertainties on the horizon. In keeping with the path of growth initiated in 2013, we estimate that the industry will end 2019 with a 2.3% upturn and 2020 with a 1.9% rise in its turnover, with a total of 68.5 billion euros, as there will continue to be high demand, particularly from abroad. The international markets continue to constitute a cornerstone as a result of their positive evolution and stability.

The chemical industry is one of the major strategic ones from an economic standpoint but, at the same time, it appears to be a great unknown. How can this situation be reversed?

I believe that the key lies in cooperation and the constant and coordinated work of all the actors working in the chemical industry in all its dimensions, including the business, professional, labour, union-related, educational, academic and research fields. We are all united by a common objective, namely placing value on chemistry and positioning it in the place it deserves as a science and as an essential industrial industry for society, due to its significant contributions to the economy and people's well-being.

The Chemistry and Society Forum, of which both the FEIQUE and Expoquimia are members, together with the CSIC, the Spanish Royal Society of Chemistry, the Spanish National Association of Chemists and Chemical Engineers, the Conference of Directors and Deans of Chemical Engineering , the Spanish National Association of Chemists and Chemical Engineers, the Official Association of Industry and UGT-FICA have been working along these lines for more than a decade, and many breakthroughs have been made in their work towards the goal of establishing a permanent dialogue with society to promote this awareness. Proof of the above is that the Spanish chemical industry is currently the industry that is best perceived by the citizens of the EU, ahead of those of other countries with great industrial and chemical traditions such as Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, so I'd like to think that, bit by bit, we're moving towards greater social acknowledgement for this industry.

Can events like Expoquimia contribute to bringing chemistry closer to society?

Definitely. However, we mustn't be complacent; there's lots of work to be done and events such as Expoquimia represent an exceptional opportunity for the chemical industry to assert itself and exhibit the advances and innovations it can bring, enabling us to move forward as a society and help to resolve pressing challenges in the field of sustainability, including the fight against climate change and the move towards a circular and decarbonised economy. The event also provides a great opportunity to highlight the significance of this industry for the Spanish economy in terms of job creation and wealth.

This is the chief objective that will drive the third Smart Chemistry Smart Future, an event within the framework of Expoquimia 2020 at which the main companies and organisations from the chemical industry in our country will participate under the Welcome 2030 slogan, with the aim of showcasing the innovative potential and strategic nature of this industry in order to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN for that date.

What are the present and future challenges facing the chemical industry? And those facing Expoquimia?

Expoquimia's challenges will be directly related to those of the industry it operates in. Although the chemical industry is in a good state of health and the expectations are positive, difficult times are approaching with uncertainties that will affect all the economic industries to a greater or lesser extent, although the FEIQUE anticipates that the consumption flows of chemical products will continue.

There are global factors such as the evolution of the policies on trade tariffs, Brexit, the economic situation in Germany and Italy and the evolution of industries such as the car industry in Spain and Europe which will condition us and cause us to be more prudent as we look towards next year.

Within the Spanish context, it's essential, first of all, to further policies that favour industrial competitiveness, making this matter a priority issue for the future government. In addition, our main challenges continue to focus on the key competitiveness factors for the future of the industry, including energy costs, which remain our greatest handicap, despite the fact that in the field of transport, another of our great workhorses, the main objective at the moment is to complete the Mediterranean Corridor.

We also face a huge challenge as a society and, particularly, as an industry, in the promotion of sustainable development. Another crucial competitiveness factor involves prioritising the development of effective ecological transition and circular economy policies in order to defend a fair transition and improve industrial competitiveness. This effective energy transition will be accompanied by technological innovation, as a result of which the regulations should be geared towards supporting research and developing technologies to reduce emissions and create a stable regulatory and financing framework to promote these investments.

Without a doubt, the contribution of the chemical industry will be essential in guaranteeing the development of key technologies to meet the decarbonisation and circular economy targets in highly relevant areas such as CO2 capture, energy storage, technologies for the generation of renewable energies, hydrogen technology and artificial photosynthesis. These are enormous social and business challenges that we must attempt to overcome with absolute commitment and efficiency.

A year ahead of the event, can you tell us about the new features of Expoquimia 2020?

Broadly speaking, we should point out that, as a major innovation, Expoquimia 2020 will have a specific area called Mat 2030 to display the applications of the new materials. In addition, the range of exhibitions will be complemented by the latest Expoquimia BIO, featuring bio-technological products, and the third Smart Chemistry Smart Future event headed by the FEIQUE, which, as well as presenting the solutions offered by chemistry to contribute to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN's 2030 Agenda, will show how it can meet the demands of key demanding industries such as food, construction and the car industry.

Similarly, in its Expoquimia Experience activity programme, Expoquimia will host a series of visits to top-class scientific infrastructures, another Chemical Engineering Congress of the Mediterranean and the Expoquimia R&D Awards. I'd also like to point out that, with the aim of attracting more international visitors, Expoquimia and Achema, the two major European applied chemical trade fairs, have reached a partnership agreement to encourage exchanges of high-quality professional visitors.

Finally, how do you see the future of the industry? And Expoquimia's?

I'm convinced that the chemical industry will play an essential role reflected in solutions for society and constitute a driving force for our economy. Despite the uncertainties, we have a potentially promising future, bearing in mind the innovative and competitive strength of the industry when it comes to meeting the high global demand. A demand for chemical products which, due to their versatility and ability to respond to the other productive industries, is undergoing constant growth.

Despite the slowdown of the markets and the prospects of a global recession, the chemical industry has excellent long-term expectations of growth, calculated at an annual rate of 4.5% until 2030. In turn, these prospects are generating a sharp increase in investment. In 2018 alone, the investments of the chemical industry throughout the world exceeded 250 billion euros. No other industry has similar expectations but, if we want to participate in this growth, we must strive to create the right framework to make it happen.

Of course, this potentiality is not without its challenges and conditioning issues, such as the course taken by the different risk and competitiveness factors that directly and indirectly affect us. We operate in a global and interconnected environment in which, of course, we are greatly influenced by the economic cycles and the political and social contexts. Of all these conditioning factors, the greatest risk in the short and mid terms can undoubtedly be found in the evolution of the foreign markets, which are so significant for the chemical industry.

Expoquimia's future will entail continuing to reinvent itself, as it has always done over decades, in order to adapt to the demands of the chemical industry, a field in permanent evolution.


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