Australia seeks clarity on China coal move

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has downplayed reports China has suspended lucrative imports of Australian coal.

The value of Australian exports of iron ore and concentrates to China rose 16% to $43bn.

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Birmingham made clear that the Australian door remains open for discussion with the Chinese Government about the export of coal for steelmaking, with coal remaining an important part of Australia's export mix as a reliable energy source for countries throughout Asia, including China.

China is the biggest merchant of Australian coal, taking 27% of its metallurgical coal in the year to June and 20% of its thermal coal.

Chinese power stations and steel mills have been verbally told to immediately stop using Australian coal, people familiar with the order told Bloomberg. On Oct. 8, trade publication IHS Markit reported that authorities at ports in Bayuquan and Jingtang in northern China and Fangcheng in the south had told buyers that Australian cargo would be rejected from discharge and clearing, effective Oct. 1.

China keeps a tight grip on coal imports as it seeks to balance the needs of its miners and industrial users and the Australian government had anticipated a slowdown in shipments, given strong import volumes taken by China in the first half of the year.

"State-owned utilities and steel mills in China received verbal notice from China's customs to stop importing Australian thermal and coking coal with immediate effect", commodities reporter S&P Global Platts wrote, citing several unnamed sources.

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Australia's troubled relationship with China has been buffeted by new trade strains.

It also halts beef imports from four of Australia's largest meat processors. "The eventual recovery in ex-China demand and subsequent lift in crude steel production has resulted in a relatively quick recovery in met coal prices through September".

A ban on Australian coal could have serious implications for the country's resource-dependent economy, which is already in its first recession in nearly 30 years.

Beijing has objected to a series of diplomatic moves by Canberra that it viewed as supporting the U.S.in its trade and security dispute with China. It was stated by Australia's trade minister on Tuesday as he played down a potential symbol of increasing trade tension between the two nations.

"At this stage there was no timeline for the edict and so it is hard to gauge what the impact will be".

In the premium mid-volatility hard coking coal sector, prices are more resilient due to strong demand from India.

Visit Business Insider Australia's homepage for more stories.

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