Coal trading has become too risky, a trader remarked on Thursday February 21 amid news that customs authorities in Dalian, a major city in northeastern China, had slashed the yearly coal import quota for ports under their jurisdiction by 25%.
The indefinite coal restrictions at Dalian started this month and are part of an overall plan to cap imports into the customs region this year, Reuters reported, citing an unnamed Dalian Port Group official.
The ban follows simmering tensions between the two countries over issues such as cyber security and China's influence over island nations in the Pacific Ocean; Australia recently revoked the visa of a prominent Chinese businessman, further straining ties. Delays in handling coal imports were due to stepped up inspections to protect the environment, it said on Friday.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is denying Australian coal is being blocked from entering China.
Plenty of conclusions are being drawn, including that China is making Australia the scapegoat for its trade dispute with the United States.
The Dalian ports handled about 14 million tonnes of coal previous year, half of which was from Australia, said Gu Meng, an analyst at Orient Futures. It typically takes about five to 20 days.
However, Australian coal, which accounts for more than half of the port's 18 million tonnes of imports each year, was taking longer to clear customs, he said, adding that official policy on product from Australian was "very fuzzy". Yancoal closed 2.8 per cent weaker, New Hope lost 3.3 per cent, Stanmore Coal was down 2 per cent and Coronado Coal was off 3 per cent. Glencore, a major coal producer, was down more than 3 per cent in London on Thursday night but BHP Billiton stock was steady.
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"Those knee-jerk headlines of "Australia's number-one export destination has a ban on Australia's number-one export" were enough to knock the Aussie lower", Callow said.
"We do not believe that this is isolated to Australia but may well be and is likely applicable to other coal exporters into China as well". He said Beijing was applying its rules equally to all countries and wasn't discriminating against Australia.
"Australians do a lot of trade with our giant neighbour to the north, however, we should be calm about this move". "This has been confirmed by our own conversations with buyers in China". "China has a massive coal resource and a large albeit low-quality iron ore resource", a fund manager said.
That said, any uncertainties that emerge over the import policy of China - the world's biggest buyer of coking coal - will certainly keep market participants on the edge of their seats. "This is not the first time that on occasion local ports make decisions about these matters", Morrison told reporters in Auckland.
Lowe, echoing analysts, said it was also important to note that the current amount of coal reportedly blocked by Dalian was small. Yancoal said it will not be impacted by the Dalian ban as it does not ship to the port. Glencore directed queries to the Minerals Council of Australia, which declined to comment.
"We should be in a better position by this time tomorrow because the Chinese realise that this is a very significant issue and they probably don't want to see it on the front pages any more than we do".