(Updates with quote, data and background)
BEIJING, Aug 8 (Reuters) - China’s coal imports in July fell to their lowest in five months as Beijing’s efforts to combat pollution curbed utilities’ ability to buy cheaper foreign fuel and caused backlogs in ports, customs data showed on Tuesday.
Arrivals of China’s favourite fuel totaled 19.46 million tonnes in July, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.
That’s down nearly 10 percent from June and 8.3 percent lower than July last year, according to Reuters calculations. Customs does not provide percentage changes for the monthly data.
The drop in shipments and intensifying crackdown on imports will raise concerns among major exporters like Australia, Indonesia and Russia.
Still, for the year to date, imports were up 18.2 percent at 152.71 million tonnes, reflecting stronger buying earlier in the year when domestic mine capacity was lower.
In recent months though, power companies in the world’s top coal buyer have struggled with a flurry of government measures aimed at curbing imports as they seek to secure sufficient supplies for the hot summer months when demand for airconditioners surges.
These include a ban on coal shipments at small ports from July 1, more random checks on coal cargoes and a more thorough inspection process before clearing shipments.
“There are worries that coal prices will continue to rally until winter and utilities cannot secure enough supply as a result of the crackdown on domestic coal mines,” said Zhang Xiaojin, coal analyst with China Everbright Futures.
Xiaojin said it can take up to 40 days to get coal cleared through customs, leading to a build-up at ports.
Short-term supply issues will continue to support strong import demand for thermal coal in China, Daniel Hayes of ANZ Research said in a note.
In a recent sign that Beijing is worrying about supplies, a senior economic official said China may adjust its policy on coal capacity cuts.
Adding to the concerns, China’s biggest producer Shenhua suspended operations at two large open-pit coal mines on August 3.
Power producer Huadian Energy estimated in a company filing that Shenhua’s production cut would leave Huadian with a 3 million tonnes shortfall.
For tables and data of China’s coal imports including lignite, please click on, for coal imports excluding lignite, please click on (Reporting by Meng Meng and Josephine Mason; Editing by Richard Pullin)