China clears Australian coal held at ports

Coal ship at sea (fossil fuel)
Image: Shutterstock

Most of the Australian coal used by steelmakers that was being held at China’s ports in the wake of Beijing’s import ban has now been cleared, according to Fengkuang Coal Logistics via Bloomberg.

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Customs data for the final quarter of last year show 6.2 million tonnes of Australian coking coal were finally allowed in, along with another 5.5 million tonnes of thermal coal destined for power plants.

It’s unclear how much coal in total was stranded after Beijing officials stopped import ships near the end of 2020 as political ties with Australia soured.

The ban on Australian coal has created some unlikely winners, with exporters from the US and Canada picking up export deals with China.

The amount of coking coal arriving from the US grew nearly 10 times to account for almost 20 per cent of China’s imports, according to Fengkuang. Meanwhile, Canadian shipments doubled to nearly the same portion.

Whether the ban on Australian fuel continues, and the impact of the pandemic on coal supplies from neighbouring Mongolia, mean that the coking coal import market in 2022 remains highly uncertain, Fengkuang said. 

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China’s needs this year will depend on demand from the steel industry, which in turn will be shaped by whether Beijing continues to insist on lower production to meet its carbon targets, and the degree to which infrastructure spending will be used to buttress flagging economic growth. 

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