Updated: 2013-02-08 (China Daily) - China's coal imports will decline 10 percent year-on-year in 2013, the first drop in five years, due to increasing domestic supply and the country's improved transportation network, a Thomson Reuters survey showed.
China - the world's largest coal importer - will import up to 210.8 million metric tons of the commodity in 2013, it said.
The country, which accounts for about one-third of the seaborne coal market in the Pacific region, has a growing influence in the region's coal market.
In 2011, China imported 234.3 million tons of coal, up 30 percent year-on-year. The increase was due to the record-low price of thermal coal on the international market at the time, which dropped to $84 a ton.
Last year, China imported 289 million tons of coal, up 29.8 percent year-on-year, while coal exports declined 36.8 percent year-on-year, according to figures from the China National Coal Association.
Due to increasing coal imports, domestic coal inventories have been growing, which resulted in lower domestic coal prices, the association said.
In 2012, China's coal output was 3.66 billion tons, up 4 percent year-on-year. The growth rate fell by 4.7 percentage points compared with 2011, it added.
Analysts said the increase in coal imports is in line with the central government's policy.
"As a non-renewable energy resource, coal has been the most important and traditional energy source in China for a long time," said Dai Bing, director of the coal industry information department at JYD Online Co Ltd, a Beijing-based bulk commodity consultancy. "The increasing imports contributed to the country's energy reserves," he said.
Dai estimated that China's coal imports in 2013 will continue to grow.
Coal demand will increase as China's economy rebounds this year. But the domestic coal output will continue to grow, which may ease import demand. However, in southern parts of the country, imported coal is very competitive in terms of quality and prices, Dai added.
Experts also said China has to keep coal imports at a reasonable level to avoid price rises.
"China's coal imports have increased rapidly in the past few years and account for a big share of the global coal market," said Lin Boqiang, head of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University. "Thus, if the country imports an excessive quantity of coal in a short period, it might increase international coal prices."
Among the major challenges for China's coal industry are high stockpiles and falling prices.
By the end of 2012, inventories of China's coal companies stood at 31.2 million tons, up 58 percent year-on-year.