Mongolia overtook Australia as China's top coking coal supplier in September, with shipments to China further expanding compared with the latter, but completely replacing Australian coking coal with Mongolian material would be challenging in China.
Chinese steel mills had a good appetite for Australian low-vol premium coking coal, due to its high quality and cost-effectiveness. Australian low-vol premium coking coal is similar to domestically-produced Liulin #4 coking coal in Shanxi, but annual production of such coal in China only accounted for less than half of the Australian imports.
The supply gap of premium coking coal after China put a break on Australian coal imports can't be filled by domestic coking coal, so does Mongolian coking coal, which has lower CSR (coke strength after reaction) compared with Australian PLV.
Nevertheless, Mongolian material needs to be mixed with high-quality Shanxi coking coal in producing met coke, and blending parameters need to be strictly controlled.
The irreplaceability of premium Australian coal with low sulfur and ash contents determines that even if import of the material will be restricted for a long time, it is nearly impossible to be completely replaced by Mongolian coal, said one senior official with China Aluminum International Trading Group Co., Ltd. at an industry conference October 22.
"The increase in Mongolian coking coal, however, is still able to help ease the supply pressure in some areas, especially in northern China. And the fall of Australian coal may help to shore up Mongolian coal prices and long-term contract prices of domestic coking coal at China's coastal steel mills, the major consumer of imported Australian coal," he said.
However, downstream users in southern China would find it hard to switch from Australian coal to Mongolian material due to logistics inconvenience and high logistics costs, which may force some to seek more expensive domestic coal produced in Shanxi and Shaanxi.
Despite this, high Mongolian coking coal inflows to China are likely to be a trend in the long run, because of Mongolia's geographical proximity, as wells as efforts made between the two countries to facilitate transnational trades, including the establishment of the "Green Channel" and construction of cross-border railway.
China's imports of Mongolian coking coal soared 26.7% month on month to 3.89 million tonnes in September, hitting a new high since 2014. The imports nearly doubled China's intakes of Australian coal, which slumped 34.4% from August to 1.98 million tonnes, customs data showed.
The two countries were still major coking coal suppliers to China, with combined shipments accounting for 87.4% of China's total coking coal imports of 6.72 million tonnes.
China's move to take fewer shipments from Australia could be a strategy to diversify supply sources and reduce reliance on Australian coking coal.
The country's restriction on imports of Australian coal will probably relaxed when new quotas are introduced next year, and its appetite for Australian supplies is widely expected to remain weak until then.
(Writing by Emma Yang Editing by Harry Huo)
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