Both thermal coal, mainly used as fuel at power generation plants, and metallurgical coal for steelmaking from Australia fell to zero in December, according to data from the General Administration of Customs on Wednesday.
China did not allow any coal cargos from Australia to pass the customs clearance in December as it targeted various Australian products with unofficial import restrictions, but inflows from other countries rose. Both thermal coal, mainly used as fuel at power generation plants, and metallurgical coal for steelmaking from Australia fell to zero in December, according to data from the General Administration of Customs on Wednesday. But coal arrivals from other sources, such as Indonesia and Russia, increased last month as Beijing granted approval to power plants to import coal from various countries without clearance restrictions, except Australia.
Relations between Beijing and Canberra have come under increasing strain amid a series of disputes over trade, politics and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The customs data also showed that the share of Australian thermal coal slipped to 34.19% of China’s total imports of the fuel in 2020 from 39.72% in 2019. However, the share of Australian coking coal rose to 48.68% of China’s total purchases last year from 41.31% in 2019, partially due to a supply disruption from Mongolia during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Unlike with thermal coal, China is heavily reliant on Australian met volume,” said analysts from Kpler in a note, adding that Australia supplies accounted for more than 62% of all seaborne metallurgical coal.
China has granted new quotas in 2021 allowing for coal imports to pass customs clearance, but there is no sign that restrictions on Australian products are being lifted, according to trading sources. At least 62 cargos carrying 6.14 million tonnes of coal from Australia are waiting to discharge near Chinese ports, some of which have been waiting since June, according to Refinitiv’s trade flows data.
China is planning to buy $1.467 billion worth of thermal coal from Indonesia in 2021.