China didn't let any coal cargoes from Australia pass the customs clearance in December, whereas imports from other major sources like Indonesia and Russia increased sharply, according to data from the General Administration of Customs.
Beijing unofficially banned coal imports from Australia since early October 2020, a move market narratives deemed as the retaliation against Australia's ban on Huawei and its role in an investigation on the origin of COVID-19.
In a bid to bolster domestic industry, China had curbed coal imports from all sources by tightening import quotas since March last year, but from December it greenlit power plants to import coal without necessity to provide quotas for customs clearance, as domestic supply came into a shortage while demand was flaring amid unexpected cold winter and strong economic recovery.
However, bans on Australia were still in place. Even cargoes that have already arrived in China remained stuck off the Chinese coast, no matter for thermal coal that is mainly for power generation and coking coal for steelmaking. At least 62 cargos carrying 6.14 million tonnes of coal from Australia are waiting to discharge near Chinese ports, some of which have been waiting since June, Reuters said.
The customs data also showed that the share of Australian thermal coal slipped to 34.19% of China's total imports of the fuel in 2020 from 39.72% in 2019. However, the share of Australian coking coal rose to 48.68% of China's total purchases last year from 41.31% in 2019, as imports from the first two months soared so that the decline since restrictions came into force was hided.
While sources had claimed an Australian coal cargo got cleared at Guangzhou port early this month, no other substantial signs showed China will drop the ban any time soon. With China's domestic supply gradually recovering, the possibility becomes more remote.
(Writing by Alex Guo Editing by Harry Huo)
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