BOGOTA Dec 15 (Reuters) - Drummond, Colombia's second-largest coal exporter, expects coal output to rise to up to 31 million tonnes next year from a lower-than-expected 26 million to 27 million tonnes this year, according to an interview published in local media on Saturday.
Colombia is the world's fourth-largest coal exporter and all major producers are expanding their mines, railways and ports to take advantage of an expected rise in demand for the material, especially from Asian countries.
Jose Miguel Linares, a vice president at Drummond, was quoted as saying in La Republica newspaper, that the company expected output of 26 million to 27 million tonnes this year. In February, the company said it expected 29 million tonnes.
"We will be working to increase production levels to reach 30 to 31 million tonnes. We'll also seek to continue with the expansion of the El Descanso and get the environmental license that allows us to operate in the south," he said.
Linares, who has worked for Drummond for 25 years, will become interim president next year after the current head steps down. Drummond's operations are in the northern Cesar province.
Drummond is an 80-20 joint venture with Japan's Itochu Corp.
Colombia's coal sector has suffered in 2012 from low demand and prices as a result of sluggish global economic growth coupled with strikes at the Fenoco coal railway of which Drummond is a shareholder.
The coal sector is dominated by major producers such as Glencore International's Prodeco unit, Drummond and Cerrejon, which is jointly owned by BHP Billiton Plc, Anglo American Plc and Xstrata Plc.