"We need to defend what we have established and built in Chile over the last 30 years, that is, a robust business climate that offers opportunities for workers, investors, and the Chilean economy as a whole."
How has Chile’s chemical sector dealt with the challenges of the past two years?
If we look back two years, in Chile we had a social conflict in October 2019, followed soon after by Covid. However, the Chilean chemical industry has actually performed very well during this time. During the pandemic, ASIQUIM’s board of directors continued to meet twice per month with the same discipline as before, but online instead of in person. As the chemical sector is essential, production and transportation (of goods and workers) never stopped. Since September 2021, we are now back to in-person meetings at ASIQUIM.
In 2020, the pandemic certainly impacted growth, however we have seen this pick up in 2021, with most companies posting good results. In particular, construction and copper mining have bounced back in 2021, while agriculture, food packaging and pulp and paper have remained strong throughout.
To what extent do you think the social protests that started in 2019 have impacted Chile’s business climate?
I am Chilean and I was born here, but I worked for many years abroad in a number of countries. When I came back to Chile eight years ago, I noticed the remarkable improvements made in the country. I am not only talking about infrastructure, but also the level of skilled professionals and the quality of the services such as hospitals. There is still inequality which needs to be addressed, but I think the 2019 protests follow a more global trend, as we have seen similar situations in countries such as the US. Importantly, we need to defend what we have established and built in Chile over the last 30 years, that is, a robust business climate that offers opportunities for workers, investors, and the Chilean economy as a whole.
Regarding the 2021 general election that will be held in November, we know that people in our industry want stability, so we want presidential candidates who know what they are doing. As chemical companies, we are very close to our people, as we are on the ground at the plant rather than behind a desktop.
How could Chile leverage its geographic position to serve as a regional import and export hub for the Latin American chemical supply chain?
Although Chile has a good location along the west coast of South America, it is not an easy country from a topography perspective. Our two biggest ports, Valparaíso and San Antonio, do not have space to grow and need serious investment to improve their surrounding infrastructure. We need more railways and highways to facilitate the flow of goods not only from other countries, but also domestically within Chile. These are long term investments that require continuity to overcome the logistics deficit that exists in Latin America. However Chilean Congress has approved 26 Commercial Agreements, that due our geographic position present a good opportunity to keep on developing project to use those agreements as a development platform. For Example, Chilean Authorities has made a firm commitment to promote the development and production of Green Hydrogen in the next 10 years.
Can you describe the Chilean chemical sector’s commitment to improve sustainability standards?
At ASIQUIM we work with Responsible Care, the global chemical industry's environmental, health and safety (EHS) initiative to drive continuous improvement in performance. Today, ASIQUIM has 129 member companies around 50% of them have certified the Responsible Care Management System. We are working together with the other 50% to embrace this initiative and certified their operations no later than 2025. In this respect, the number of regulations that already exist in Chile help companies become compliant and ASIQUIM has work hard to constantly improve standards, and sustainability regulation with national authorities that is implementing international standards of regulation based on UN and OCED’s guidelines for the chemical management. Importantly, just because we have made progress but not mean we can relax, as this is a continuous process which requires the participation of all stakeholders.
What are ASIQUIM’s main areas of focus for the next few years?
One of our main areas of focus, in collaboration with ASIQUIM’s members, is to improve the reputation of the chemical industry in Chile through education. For example, we have been teaching Chilean police how to handle chemical products in the case of an accident. Community involvement in the chemical sector is another key priority. I often go to different cities within Chile and have seen the positive impact we have had in the regions in which Chemical Industry is present, creating wealth and employment opportunities. We have to be humble, listen to the local people, and always look to improve what we are doing and how we are working.