China Oct coal imports fall to 21.28 million tonnes on air pollution campaign

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s coal imports fell in October from a month earlier, curbed by efforts by the world’s top buyer to replace coal with cleaner fuel in the northern part of the country to meet tough air quality targets.

Imports reached 21.28 million tonnes last month, down from 27.08 million tonnes in September, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Wednesday.

That brought purchases in January-October to 226.13 million tonnes, up 12.0 percent from a year earlier, according to Reuters calculations based on customs data.

“Coal consumption was curbed by output cuts...driving coal prices down and making imported coal less competitive compared to the domestic fuel,” said Xu Bo, analyst at Haitong Futures.

Coal price touched as low as 605 yuan ($91.16) a tonne in early October, after it had climbed to a record of 667.4 on Sept. 19.

China has been striving to reduce coal consumption and promote cleaner energy to curb air pollution. It aims to eliminate 44,000 coal-fired industrial boilers and replace coal-fueled household heating with gas or electricity in millions of residences.

Beijing and its neighboring regions plan to cap its coal consumption at 300 million tonnes by 2020.

Big coal users such as steel mills and aluminum smelters in the northern part of China have been ordered to cut output by as much as 50 percent during winter.

Tangshan and Handan, two major steelmaking cities in Hebei, began enforcing production cuts since October.

“Although the heating season will kick off soon, it remain uncertain if coal imports will see big growth, as domestic coal miners are resuming capacity and enforcement...of coal-to-gas (switching ) is hard to predict,” said Haitong Futures analyst Xu.

The northeastern Heilongjiang province has lowered its target for cutting coal mine capacity to ensure supplies in the region as utilities struggle to find enough fuel.

Stockpiles in major coal import ports in northern China continue to stay at high level, with over 7 million coal piling at Qinhuangdao Port, according to data from Mysteel and Wind consultancy seen by Reuters via a broker.

The figures include lignite, a type of coal with lower heating value that is largely supplied by Indonesia.

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Reporting by Muyu Xu and Josephine Mason; Editing by Richard Pullin and Kenneth Maxwell