The Estonian chemical industry is characterised by strong territorial concentration, as more than half of the chemical industry is located in one county: East-Viru. This results from tradition and development possibilities of that region.
Two important chemical sub-sectors are characteristically specific to the Estonian chemical industry: oil shale chemistry and the producing of rare earth metals and their oxides. Industrial production of Estonian shale oil was started in 1924. Producing oil from oil shale is a long-term tradition in Estonia, but a unique process in Europe. It makes a remarkable contribution to the economy of the country.
The Estonian economy is characterised by a large share of small businesses, but the vast majority of sales are generated by the minority of big companies. This pattern is reflected by the chemical industry as well.
According to the Estonian Statistics Office, the total number of businesses in 2016 in Estonia was approximately 73,000. Among those, there were 97 companies in the chemical industry, only two of which had more than 250 employees. The number of employees in chemical industries was 2,536, accounting for 3.4% of the number of people employed in the processing industry. At the same time, sales account for 5.0%. The overall turnover of the chemical industry in 2016 was €600 million.
Again, it must be mentioned that the profile of FECI members is somewhat different than the national chemical industry defined by the statistics office. To that end, FECI has 55 member companies that employ approximately twice as many workers as the national chemical industry.
Export success comes mostly from East-Viru county, where the main export articles are shale oil and – phenols, benzoic acid, sodium benzoate, and plasticizers, rare earth metals and their oxides; production of urea fertilizers has ceased.
Producers of construction chemicals, namely sealants and construction adhesives, play a big role in chemical product exports. Export volumes of applied chemistry are more modest, but Estonia has a long experience in producing cosmetics and applied chemistry such as home care products.