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Energy Slump Markets in Asia: Coal Trade Declines for the First Time in 21 Years

Author / Editor: Mike Mellish / Dominik Stephan

China and India remain the key drivers of global coal trading, despite a current slump in some Asian economies. These are the winners and loser of the global shift on coal trading markets...

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Other regions include Eurasia, the Middle East, and Africa, but Europe makes up the majority of trade. Graph does not include small balancing volumes used to reconcile discrepancies between reported exports and imports. With the exception of North America, non-seaborne coal trade, which accounts for about 10% of total world coal trade, is not shown in the graph
Other regions include Eurasia, the Middle East, and Africa, but Europe makes up the majority of trade. Graph does not include small balancing volumes used to reconcile discrepancies between reported exports and imports. With the exception of North America, non-seaborne coal trade, which accounts for about 10% of total world coal trade, is not shown in the graph
(Source: US Energy Information Administration)

Global trade of coal grew dramatically from 2008 to 2013, but in 2014, it declined for the first time in 21 years. China and India accounted for 98% of the increase in world coal trade from 2008 to 2013, but declines in China's import demand have led to declines in total world coal trade in 2014 and, based on preliminary data, in 2015 as well.

Nearly all of the 47% growth in total world coal trade between 2008 and 2013 was driven by rising coal import demands by countries in Asia, specifically China and India. Coal trade in the rest of the world declined over the same period. However, data for 2014 and 2015 indicate a reversal of this trend, with declines in China's coal imports currently on pace to more than offset slight increases in other countries in both years.

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China imported 341 million short tons of coal in 2013, up from 45 million short tons in 2008, while India imported 203 million short tons, up from 69 million short tons. About 75% of China's coal imports and 90% of India's coal imports were steam coal, used primarily for electricity generation. Coking coal, used in the manufacture of steel, made up the remaining volumes.

While China's coal imports have been declining in 2014 and 2015, India's imports continued to rise in 2014 and through the first half of 2015 as coal demand increased at a faster pace than domestic supplies. In China, rising output from domestic mines, improvements in coal transportation infrastructure, and slower growth in domestic coal demand have resulted in lower domestic coal prices and reduced demand for coal imports.

Additionally, the Chinese government introduced a number of measures in late 2014 and early 2015 aimed at supporting China's coal industry. These measures include reestablishing taxes on coal imports; placing limits on allowable sulfur, ash, and trace elements for imported coal; and issuing a directive to major utilities to reduce their annual coal imports by approximately 55 million short tons.

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