China is set to receive at least two cargoes of Australian coal in early February, according to traders and shiptracking data, the first since an unofficial ban on imports in place since 2020 was lifted earlier this month.
Coal traders will be paying attention to how easily the shipments pass customs for signs that the informal ban is truly over and in the hopes of sending more Australian coal to China.
Australian thermal coal for power generation and metallurgical coal for steelmaking are favored by Chinese consumers for their high-quality. China’s coal demand is forecast to rise in the upcoming months amid an expected economic rebound after Beijing rolled back its draconian zero-COVID strategy.
About 72,000 tonnes of metallurgical coal was loaded on to bulk vessel Magic Eclipse at Hay Point, Australia, on Jan. 23 and is expected to arrive at the southern Chinese city of Zhanjiang in Guangdong province next week, Refinitiv and Kpler shiptracking data showed.
China’s top steelmaker Baowu Group bought the cargo, according to a trader familiar with the deal and the shiptracking data.
Baowu is one of the four government-backed firms given permission from China’s state planner in early January to purchase Australian coal. The company has 12.25 million tonnes of annual steelmaking capacity at its Zhanjiang base.
Baowu did not immediately respond to Reuters’ inquiry seeking for comment.
Another bulk vessel, the BBC Maryland, is carrying about 12,000 tonnes of thermal coal from the Australian port of Newcastle and heading to the eastern Chinese city of Changshu, Kpler data showed. The cargo is scheduled to arrive on Feb. 10 but it is not immediately clear who the buyer was.
China Energy Investment Corp purchased at least two cargoes of Australian coal, Reuters reported in early January. China’s local media reported that the other two firms given approval to buy Australian coal have also placed orders.
Other Chinese utilities and steelmakers that are not on Beijing’s list of approved importers are still waiting to resume imports.
Customs officials in five major eastern and southern Chinese cities have said that there is no specific requirement for companies importing Australian coal during the customs declaration process.
However, it was unclear if the customs authorities would clear cargoes purchased by companies other than the four approved ones.
Australian thermal coal with a heating content of 5,500 kilocalories was assessed at about $132 a tonne on a free-on-board basis last week, down from about $137 a tonne in early January, according to traders.
Premium low volatile coking coal for delivery on a cost and freight basis to China was assessed at about $320 a tonne last week, up from $315 in early January, the traders said.