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The EU ceramics industry is a world leader in producing uniquely designed high quality ceramic products such as tiles, bricks, sanitary ware, or vitreous clay pipes. Most manufacturers are innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Even though the industry was hit hard by the economic crisis, there are signs of recovery. The European Commission’s objective is to help the ceramic industry get back on track and enhance its competitiveness.

Why the ceramic industry is important

  • Employment - the sector provides over 338 thousand jobs
  • EU Economy - the ceramics sector accounts for €27.8 billion in production value

Competitiveness and innovation in the ceramic industry

  • Ceramic manufacturers –EU manufacturers are mainly represented by SMEs that react quickly to changing demand and new opportunities. The use of automation and environmental technologies are widespread. Clusters fuel innovation and enhance competitiveness.
  • Innovation - innovations include the industry's specialisation in value added products, access to new markets in emerging economies, and its ability to offer just-in-time and just-to-market service. The sector is increasing research and development in technical ceramics, smart materials, the use of lasers, process automation, and labelling.

Challenges faced by EU ceramic industry:

The main challenge to the EU ceramic industry are

  • competition in mass volumes of low-cost products (tableware) from emerging economies
  • high energy prices and reliance on raw materials from non-EU producers
  • trade barriers such as tariffs or testing and certification schemes
  • life style changes and substitution by other products
  • attracting and keeping a skilled workforce

Trade in ceramic products

  • Markets – products with high weight and low price (bricks, roof tiles) have local or regional markets, whereas tableware and tiles are traded over long distances. Around 30% of the output of tableware and tiles is exported outside the EU.
  • Export and import - the USA is the EU’s biggest export market, followed by Switzerland, Russia, and Japan. 70% of all imports are from China, followed by the USA, and Thailand.
  • Trade – issues concern counterfeiting and access to non-EU markets. Import tariffs and other trade barriers are creating difficulties for EU companies that want to export outside the EU.
  • Anti-dumping - the EU interest test ensures that the costs resulting from anti-dumping duties do not negatively impact on the industry's competitiveness.
  • Access to raw materials - is of key importance, especially for the refractories sub sector where certain countries control up to 90% of the raw materials (magnesia, bauxite).

Sustainability in the EU ceramics industry

  • Energy efficiency - ceramics production processes are energy intensive with the bricks and roof tiles sector being the biggest energy consumers. The industry has halved its energy consumption over the last 25 years as a result of a switch in fuel usage.
  • Emissions – dust and gaseous emissions arise during the firing or spray drying of ceramics and may be derived from the raw materials and/or the fuels used.
  • Heavy metals - can be emitted due to substances used in decoration or the use of heavy oil.
  • Lead and cadmium – lead and cadmium are regulated by Directive 2005/31/EC. This Directive requires a written declaration by the producer or importer that the goods placed on the market comply with the lead and cadmium release limits.
  • Waste - some of the waste from the production process can be recycled back to the kiln. The rest is sent for external recycling (road construction) or disposal (landfill). Some producers are beginning to bring in waste for recycling.
  • Legislation - the industry falls within the scope of the Directives on emissions trading, Directive on industrial emissions 2010/75/EU (IED), REACH, and ceramic articles intended to come into contact with foodstuffs on packaging and packaging waste.

Supporting information


GROW-I1atec [dot] europa [dot] eu (GROW-I1[at]ec[dot]europa[dot]eu)