China's coal imports reached a six-month peak of 32.89 million tonnes in July, only second to 33.5 million tonnes in January this year when large volumes of the fuel cleared customs following newly released import quotas from the government.
Chinese customs authorities tightened quota regulation for import coal at coastal ports last November, after coal imports totaled 250 million tonnes during January-October 2018, which made it difficult in keeping 2018 imports no higher than 271 million tonnes imported in 2017.
Now the similar concern arises once again and seems earlier than in 2018, as China has learned a profound lesson from last winter's disconcertment to rein in imports.
China's coal imports went up 7% from a year earlier to 187.36 million tonnes over January-July this year. It means China has 94.14 million tonnes of import quota left for the August-December period, or a monthly average of 18.83 million tonnes.
From August to December last year, monthly coal imports by China averaged 21.22 million tonnes.
Whether China could maintain coal imports in 2019 flat from last year is still up in the air, as import volumes in 2018 reached 281.5 million tonnes, despite government efforts to put a lid on imports.
Since mid-July, multiple Chinese ports have reportedly banned non-local buyers from clearing customs for import coal.
Caofeidian and Jingtang ports in north China's Hebei province prohibited trading firms from declaring customs, and even end users at other localities were not allowed for customs clearance. The two ports mainly receive coking coal imports and their import quotas for 2019 have basically been used up, sources said.
Thermal coal receiving ports in southern China, like Guangzhou port in Guangdong province, Fangcheng, Qinzhou and Beihai ports in Guangxi autonomous region, all have halted customs clearance for non-local customers, sxcoal.com learned from sources close to the hubs.
Recently the number of trucks, loaded with imported coking coal from Mongolia at Ganqimaodu checkpoint in Inner Mongolia, slumped to less than 500 a day on average from previous 1,000, also a sign of tougher restrictions on coal imports.
China registered up to 23% average annual growth in coal imports to 281.5 million tonnes last year from 40.4 million tonnes in 2009 when the country became a net coal importer.
China is the world's largest coal producer and consumer, and the vast majority of imported coal flows to eastern and southern parts of the country.
(Writing by Jessie Jia Editing by Harry Huo)
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