China plans to ban coal imports starting July 1 at ports that were set up through approvals by provincial authorities, according to people with knowledge of the situation, the latest move by President Xi Jinping’s government to exert stricter control on the market.
Ports in the world’s largest consumer of the fuel that were approved under the authority of the State Council will still be able to receive overseas shipments, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the information isn’t public. China’s largest ports are typically approved by the central government’s State Council when they are developed, while smaller ports usually only received provincial or local approvals.
The duration and impact on imports of the ban are unclear, said the people. The country’s General Administration of Customs didn’t respond to faxed questions, while a Beijing-based spokesman didn’t answer two calls to his office seeking comment.
The ban is the latest attempt by the government to manage the nation’s coal supply and prices, which have swung in the last year amid a series of regulations aimed at keeping prices high enough to support miners while not letting them rise to a level that hurts power producers. The National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planner, last month was considering stricter quality restrictions on imports of thermal and coking coal, Bloomberg reported.
While the impact on China’s overall coal supply may be minimal given its domestic overcapacity, regional sellers in countries like Australia and Indonesia may feel a hit.
"This will be a huge blow to imports,” Winston Han, an analyst at China Coal Transport & Distribution Association, said by phone. “We will see imports dive from July.”
Imports make up only a fraction of total supply for the world’s largest coal miner. The country produced about 3.4 billion metric tons of coal last year, while importing 255 million tons. Shipments last year rebounded from the lowest in four years amid domestic mining restrictions, and are up almost 30% during the first five months of this year.
“The ban may add upward pressure on China’s coal prices in the short term, but domestic output will quickly fill the void,” said Laban Yu, head of Asia oil and gas equity research at Jefferies Group LLC in Hong Kong. For domestic supply “the impact will be negligible, as China can easily meet its own demand by allowing qualified coal mines to produce a little more."
Newcastle coal, an Asian benchmark, has risen 42% in the past year, according to contracts traded on ICE Futures Europe exchange. Prices rose 0.6% to $78.30 a ton on June 27.
Prices at Qinhuangdao, China’s biggest port for delivering the fuel, have risen for the past two weeks to 579 yuan (US$85.19) a ton, data from China Coal Transport and Distribution Association show. Prices typically start increasing in May or June on higher power demand for air conditioning as temperatures rise.
The ports that may be impacted by such a ban include Kemen, Ningde and Dongwu in Fujian province and Ledong in Hainan province, Shanghai Securities News reported, citing an investigation from Mysteel. The combined annual import capacity of the affected ports is about 15 million tons, according to the report.