China’s coal imports fell by nearly half in the first three months of the year as the slowing economy and tougher rules on pollution took their toll as reported by The Guardian. Imports by the world’s biggest coal consumer reached 49.07m tonnes in the first quarter, a fall of 42% on the same period a year ago according to data from the Chinese customs office.
Trade figures for March showed that imports were down overall by 12.3% while exports badly missed expectations, falling 15% from a year earlier.
Coal imports for March were up 17m tonnes, a rise of 11.6% on the previous month, but analysts said underlying demand eased after taking into account the shorter month and week-long new year holiday in February.
“We have seen an even weaker coal demand in March,” said Zhang Xiaojin, an analyst at Everbright Futures in Zhengzhou.
Along with subdued demand, China’s demand for coal has been curbed by tougher environmental checks from Beijing to tackle air pollution.
China will boost efforts this year to reduce pollution and cut the energy intensity of its economy, which is expected to grow at its lowest rate in 25 years.
The national development commission said in its annual report in March that it would implement policies aimed at reducing coal consumption and controlling the number of energy-intensive projects in polluted regions.
“The rigid demand for coal is no longer there despite collapsing prices. Power plants no longer purchase extra coal, and traditional heavy consumers from the industrial sector are buying less amid economic slowdown,” Zhang said.
Domestic prices at Qinhuangdao port have slipped 13.3% so far this year after losing 16% over the whole of 2014.
In Australia, one of the world’s biggest exporters of coal, the price of coal is around $60 per tonne. Four years ago it was $120, underlining how changes in demand from China are affecting the economies of resource producers.
China has imposed tougher quality standards on imported coal as part of its efforts to prop up domestic prices and reduce oversupply on the market.
However, the country’s energy regulator acknowledged in a policy document last month that foreign coal is still very competitive and imports are likely to remain at a relatively high level.