China Coal Imports Crash as Economy Slows Amid Clean Power Shift

  • The nation's 2015 imports fell 30%, biggest drop on record
  • Regional thermal coal benchmark price trading at nine-year low

China’s coal imports fell the most on record to the lowest in four years as a slowing economy and government efforts to curb pollution damped demand.

Overseas shipments into the world’s largest energy consumer declined about 30 percent to 204.06 million metric tons last year, the least since 2011, according to preliminary data released by the Beijing-based General Administration of Customs on Wednesday. The contraction was the largest since 2004, when Bloomberg started tracking the data. Imports in December rose a second month to 17.6 million tons.

Coal demand in China has slid as its economy slows and shifts toward consumer-led growth while the government seeks to cuts industrial overcapacity and curb pollution. The world’s biggest producer of carbon emissions is also trying to cut the use of coal as smog has blanketed cities from Shanghai to Beijing, forcing factories and schools to close and intensifying social unrest.

“China doesn’t need overseas coal supplies anymore as it already faces a big domestic oversupply,” David Fang, a director with China Coal Transport and Distribution Association, said before the data were released. “Coal imports may continue to fall this year if the government steps up efforts to improve air quality and economic growth slows further.”

China will cut coal’s share of its energy consumption to 62.6 percent this year, from 64.4 percent last year, and will suspend the approval of new mines starting this year, Xinhua News Agency reported in December, citing National Energy Administration head Nur Bekri. The country plans to ask companies to replace electricity generated from their own coal-fired plants with renewable energy, the National Development and Reform Commission said in November.

Thermal coal at Australia’s port of Newcastle, the regional benchmark, slid 1.8 percent to $49.60 a ton in the week ended Jan. 8, according to data from Globalcoal. That’s the lowest since December 2006.

— With assistance by Jing Yang

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