September 26, 2017 / 10:41 AM / a year ago

RPT-UPDATE 3-China's fuel exports to North Korea slow again, but coal imports return -customs

 (Repeating to add PIX in slug)
    * Coal imports resume with 1.6 mln T of arrivals
    * Traders say stranded coal cargoes allowed to clear customs
    * CNPC stopped selling diesel, gasoline to Pyongyang in June
    * Lead concentrate imports highest on record going back to

    By Josephine Mason and Meng Meng
    BEIJING, Sept 26 (Reuters) - China's fuel exports to North
Korea fell in August, along with iron ore imports from the
isolated nation, as trade slowed after the United Nations'
latest sanctions, but coal shipments resumed after a five-month
hiatus, customs data showed on Tuesday.
    China imported 1.6 million tonnes of coal from North Korea,
according to data from Beijing's General Administration of
Customs, the first since February, when Beijing banned purchases
of the fuel from its northeast neighbour. 
    The release comes after data on Saturday showed China's
trade with North Korea jumped in August even after the U.N.'s
latest sanctions targeted Pyongyang's exports of coal, iron ore,
lead, lead ore and seafood.
    Asked to explain the unexpected appearance of North Korean
coal in the data, a customs official said he would refer the
matter to the foreign ministry. A spokesman for the foreign
ministry at a daily briefing said it would refer the issue to
    Traders and industry experts said the shipments were likely
stranded at port since Beijing's sudden prohibition of coal
purchases in mid-February, but then allowed into the country
ahead of the latest round of penalties against North Korea. 
    On Aug. 14, China said it would allow any cargoes that were
already at port to clear customs as usual before the U.N.
sanctions came into force on Sept. 5.
    An experienced trader who handles coal from North Korea said
his 5,000-tonne cargo was allowed through customs last month
after being stuck at a Chinese port for six months. 
    He believes many or all of last month's unexpected imports
were cleared under similar circumstances. 
    "My cargo sat at port for six months until customs sent a
notice telling us they will let all North Korean cargos that
have been unloaded at port clear customs," he said. 
    The volume of coal was similar to the monthly average for
the six months before the Chinese government's ban. Its value of
about $140 million was in line with a jump in total imports from
July. It was equivalent of about 80 cargos of the fuel, based on
trader estimate for the average shipment size.
    September's data, due for release on Oct. 23, may show
imports continued into this month.
    Liu Shuxin, a coal analyst with Zhuochuang Commodities based
in Shandong province, said as much as 2 million tonnes of coal
were left without homes by Beijing's coal embargo.
    "I'm not sure whether the rest have come through. It really
depends on whether they got through certain imports procedures
before Sept. 5," he said. 
    Last month, the U.N. Security council unanimously imposed
new sanctions on North Korea. The sanctions took effect this
month, but China enforced the new measures from Aug. 15, amid
growing pressure from the United States to rein in Pyongyang's
missile programme.  
    China's gasoline shipments to North Korea were kept at a
trickle at 180 tonnes, up slightly from July's 120 tonnes but
down from almost 5,000 tonnes a year earlier. Diesel shipments
were just 170 tonnes, compared with zero tonnes a year ago. 
    At the end of June, Reuters reported China National
Petroleum Corp            (CNPC) suspended sales of gasoline and
diesel to North Korea over concerns CNPC would not get paid for
its goods. The measures are still in place, sources familiar
with the matter say. 
    Fuel prices in North Korea have surged in recent months,
people familiar with the matter say.
    Iron ore arrivals from North Korea were 143,343 tonnes in
August, the lowest since December and down from 175,980 tonnes
in July. Imports were down 27 percent on a year ago, according
to customs' records. 
    Lead concentrate imports were 14,216 tonnes, the highest on
Reuters' records going back to 2010, reflecting a scramble by
smelters near the border to secure material ahead of the
    The table below gives a breakdown of imports and exports of
major commodities between the two nations: 
                Aug        yr-on-yr   Jan-Aug    % change
                2017       % change   2017       
 Coal           1,640,000  -33.5      4,314,722  -71.13
 Iron ore       143,343    -27.2      1,653,846  +30.9
 Lead ore &     14,216     +52        91,623     +46.2
 Ethanol        3,756      +188.7     23,490     +291.3
 Gasoline       180        -96.3      46,069     -16.46
 Diesel         170        -          392        +6.71
 Jet fuel       120        +156.9     1,223      +53.82
 Other fuel     413        -96.64     19,663     -70.96
 Fuel No. 5-7   629        +110       4,582      -1.31
 LPG            189        +60.23     742        71.27
 In tonnes except for ethanol in cubic metres 

 (Reporting by Josephine Mason, Meng Meng and Hallie Gu;
Additional reporting by Stella Qiu and Dominique Patton; Editing
by Richard Pullin, Tom Hogue and Christian Schmollinger)
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