In a significant development, China experienced a notable rebound in coal imports from Australia throughout 2023, marking a positive shift following a nearly two-year ban. However, import levels remained below those observed in the pre-ban era, as Australia worked to regain market share amid stiff competition from other countries.
According to customs data, China imported 52.47 million metric tons of Australian coal in 2023, a substantial increase from the 2.86 million tons recorded in 2022. This upward trend follows China's import of 77.51 million tons of Australian coal in 2020, the last complete year before the ban was implemented.
The ban, in effect until January 2023, was lifted as part of a series of diplomatic initiatives from China following the election of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Alongside resuming coal imports, Beijing took measures to ease trade tensions by lifting tariffs on Australian barley and reviewing duties on its wine.
December's coal shipments from Australia exhibited further promise, totaling 6.71 million tons, reflecting a 6.4% increase from November's figures.
Despite the recovery in Australian imports, China's overall coal imports reached a historic high of 474.42 million tons in 2023, marking a substantial 61.8% surge from the previous year.
Indonesia, a consistent supplier under annual supply contracts, maintained its position as China's largest coal supplier, exporting 220.25 million tons in 2023, representing a notable 29% increase from 2022. Meanwhile, Mongolia's coal exports, primarily coking coal, more than doubled in 2023, reaching 69.97 million tons, as per customs data.
Analysts do not anticipate significant disruptions in China's coal imports in 2024. Macquarie analysts noted that while 90% of China's 2023 coking coal imports are subject to tariffs, producers from various countries are expected to absorb the additional costs.
The evolving dynamics in China's coal imports reflect a nuanced landscape influenced by geopolitical factors, trade dynamics, and diplomatic initiatives, underscoring the intricate interplay in the global coal market.