China became a net importer of coal in January for the first time, an official said Feb. 26, as the globe's largest consumer turned overseas to supply its booming economy. China imported 4.7 million metric tons of coal in January, a rise of 81.1% from a year ago, according to figures from the customs bureau.
Coal exports in January fell 20.4% to 3.29 million tons, the fourth straight month of year-on-year declines.
Increased demand from China's energy-hungry economy could pressure international coal prices higher, much in the same way the nation of 1.3 billion people has driven oil prices higher.
Transportation bottlenecks and a change in tax rebate policy is to blame for the coal shortage , said Hao Xiangbin an official with the Beijing-based China Coal Transport and Distribution Association. "China is strong in the productivity but lacks the transportation ability. It's difficult to transport the coal from mine sites to the coastal areas," Hao said. Also affecting import patters was the cancellation of tax rebates, Hao said.
With coal still fuelling around 70% of China's electrical generation capacity China had to be more conservative with its resources, warned Hao. "From the long-term perspective China has huge demands for energy, so it had better treasure what it has and stop exporting coal."
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007