Exclusive: Chinese companies resume Australian coal imports; first batch to arrive in Feb: insider
Published: Jan 10, 2023 09:54 PM
Tons of thermal coal are unloaded and transported at a port in Lianyungang, East China's Jiangsu Province on December 21, 2022. Photo: VCG

Tons of thermal coal are unloaded and transported at a port in Lianyungang, East China's Jiangsu Province on December 21, 2022. Photo: VCG

Chinese steel companies have recently started resuming coal imports from Australia, as part of efforts to diversify sources of supplies and stabilize import prices, an industry insider close to the matter told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Some Chinese companies and traders are now working on the imports, with the first batch of Australian coal expected to arrive in late February, said the insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"Bids were sought, the contract was signed and the price was relatively reasonable," the insider said, adding that coal from Australia is expected to arrive at a port in Southeastern China by late February, without naming the port.

The import is considered a positive signal, which will help stabilize domestic coal prices and diversify import channels, industry insiders said.

A large state-owned coal company based in Shanghai told the Global Times in a recent interview that supplies from countries like Indonesia and Mongolia is enough to meet the current market demand, while imports of Australian coal will be another alternative to look at, which may help further stabilize prices.

In February 2019, when asked about media reports of Australia coal exports to China being held offshore, Geng Shuang, then a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said that "China's customs assesses the safety and quality of imported coal, analyzes possible risks, and conducts corresponding examination and inspection compliant with laws and regulations. By doing so, it can better safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese importers and protect the environment." 

Meanwhile, due to rising diplomatic tensions, some Chinese companies also made adjustments to their coal imports from Australia to avoid potential risks.

As a result, China's imports of Australian coal in 2021 was 66.37 million tons less than in 2020, a drop of more than 85 percent year-on-year. 

In the first 11 months of 2022, China's coal imports mainly came from Indonesia, which accounted for 58.3 percent of the total. Russia accounted for 23.3 percent and Mongolia 10 percent, data from industry information provider Lange showed.

But as the bilateral relationship, which went through its lowest ebb in decades under Australia's previous government, recently showed improving signs with high-level official exchanges, Australia coal has also regained favor among Chinese companies. 

The latest move is also a reflection of Chinese companies and traders' restored attention and enthusiasm for expanding business ties with Australia, experts said.

Asked about media reports of the Chinese government having notified Chinese companies to expand business ties with Australia, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, on Tuesday referred the question to "competent authorities."

"What we want to emphasize here is that the Chinese and Australian economies are highly complementary. We hope that the Australian side will work with the Chinese side toward the goal of mutual benefit and win-win results, so as to promote the rebuilding of mutual trust between the two countries and bring the bilateral relationship back on track," Wang told a regular press briefing.