China March coal imports from Russia jump after North Korea ban: customs

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s coal imports from Russia jumped to their highest in nearly three years in March, customs data showed on Tuesday, as the world’s top buyer turned to alternative suppliers following its ban on imports from North Korea in February.

Trucks are parked next to a pile of coal on the bank of the Yalu River in Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, March 14, 2016. Picture taken from China's side of the Yalu. REUTERS/Jacky Chen/File Photo

Arrivals from Russia gained 19.5 percent to 2.3 million tons, the highest monthly total since June 2014, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Tuesday.

North Korea shipped zero coal last month, it said, in line with comments from customs earlier this month. A year ago, China imported 2.38 million tonnes of coal from the country.

The data showed a big jump from February by other major importers, Australia, Mongolia and Indonesia, reflecting a shift in trade routes after China’s sudden decision to ban all coal imports from its reclusive neighbor.

That followed repeated missile tests by Pyongyang that drew international criticism.

Overall coal imports rose, amid strong demand from steel mills, where output climbed to a record last month, and rallying domestic coking coal prices.

The higher steel output has raised more concerns about metallurgical coal supply after China banned high-quality anthracite imports from North Korea that are typically used for steel making.

Australian arrivals in March rose 15.75 percent from a year earlier to 6.66 million tons, while Mongolian shipments gained 56.35 percent to 3.05 million tons.

Indonesian imports climbed 9.4 percent from a year ago to 2.6 million tonnes.

Coal import from the United States were 340,000 tons last month, versus only 39 tons at the same time last year, the data showed.

Reporting by Meng Meng, Josephine Mason and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Christian Schmollinger