BOGOTA May 15 Colombia, the world's
fourth-largest exporter of coal, said on Wednesday it produced
18.4 million tonnes of coal in the first quarter, a drop of 21.4
percent from the same quarter last year, due to labor disputes
as well as port and rail disruptions.
Workers at Colombia's top coal miner, Cerrejon, walked off
the job for more than a month in February, demanding better
wages and benefits. Weeks of tough negotiations led to the
signing of a three-year agreement in March, but Cerrejon said it
will likely miss its 2013 output goal of 34 million tonnes.
Loading at a coal port controlled by U.S.-based Drummond Ltd
, the country's second largest coal miner, was
suspended by Colombia's environmental regulator in February
after bad weather caused a coal spill from a barge into the
"Among the reasons that led to this performance are the
stoppage at Cerrejon for 32 days and the suspension on loading
ships at Drummond's port for 23 days," the government-run
National Mining Agency said in a statement.
Meanwhile, transport on overnight trains at the country's
main coal railway was halted for nearly a month over noise
Data released last week by the country's statistics agency,
DANE, showed that the value of coal exports decreased by nearly
45 percent in the first quarter, which contributed to a 9.5
percent drop in the value of total exports for the period.
A drop in exports, as well as shrinking industrial output
and retail sales, are expected to drag down economic growth in
the first quarter. The Andean economy grew 4 percent in 2012, a
slowing down from 6.6 percent the previous year.
Last year, coal miners were hit by a spate of labor
disputes, including a strike at the key coal railway and a
walkout at a Glencore-owned mine, as well as delays in
environmental permits and a rise in guerrilla attacks.
Coal production last year missed the government's target by
nearly 9 million tonnes, even though national output rose 4
percent to 89.2 million tonnes.
The government forecasts this year's coal output at 94
The majority of Colombia's coal goes to the United States
and Europe, but the industry has increasingly looked to
diversify into Latin American and Asian markets given the
planned shutdown of coal-fired plants in Northern Hemisphere
The country's coal sector is dominated by major producers
such as Glencore, Drummond and Cerrejon, which is jointly owned
by BHP Billiton Plc, Anglo American Plc and
Xstrata Plc. Their output accounted for nearly 80
percent of all the coal produced in Colombia in the first three
months of the year.
All major producers are expanding mines and infrastructure,
and production is expected to increase to over 100 million
tonnes in the coming years.