Coal at sea. Prices have fallen. Imports from China and India are growing dynamically

By Marek Grzybowski

India’s coal imports rose to 162 t in the year. Coking coal imports increased to 54 tonnes, Indian Express reports. Total global seaborne coal loads in China increased year-on-year by 5.8% to 1,204.8 million tonnes, while in 2021, 1,138.3 million tonnes were imported by sea, Banchero Costa reports.

Coal imports to China and India will increase in 2023, but prices have already fallen significantly. Therefore, there is a chance to rebuild coal reserves in Poland at costs much lower than in 2022.

China reached a record import of 1,275.6 million tons in January-December 2019. According to a report by the government in New Delhi, India’s coal imports in FY2022-23 increased by 30% to 162.46 million tons compared to 124.99 t imported in the same period a year ago.

European Union coal import  increased in 2022

Banchero Costa experts determined that “imports of coal by sea to the European Union increased in 2022 by 34% y/y to 116.6 million tonnes, while imports to India increased by 13.6% y/y to 203.8 million tonnes, and Chinese imports fell by 3.2% y/y to 234.7 million tonnes. This means that in the first months of 2023, China and India began to rebuild stocks, secure coal for steel mills and households, and ensure their energy security.

Mainland China is now the world’s largest importer of coal by sea, including both thermal and coking coal. They control 26.2% of the global market for coal transported by sea in 2023. They overtake India, which provides bulk carrier operators with about 17% of coal trade, and Japan, which generates demand for transport at sea with a 12.9% market share, Banchero Costa experts calculated.

China Record imports by sea in 2023

Imports of coal by sea to China in 5 months of 2023 amounted to 138.8 million tonnes, according to analyzes of the traffic of bulk carriers with coal controlled by Refinitiv analysts. This means an increase of 93.4% y/y compared to 71.8 million tons in 2022 and an increase in imports through Chinese ports by 47% compared to 94.3 million tons in 2021. This is also 22.6% more than 113 .2 million tonnes imported by China in 2020

Before the Chinese New Year of the Jade Rabbit than did not herald such a revival in the Middle Kingdom. 2023 began similarly to previous years, although with slightly higher volumes than in 2022. 2023 was characterized by January and February imports of 23.6 and 21.8 million tonnes, respectively. From March, coal imports to China began to grow rapidly with a monthly increase of 45.6% to 31.8 million tonnes, which is the highest monthly record in at least 5 years. In April, imports were only slightly lower (30.4 million tonnes), with a slight decrease of 4.4% month-on-month, but an increase of 64.7% year-on-year.

Lauri Myllyvirta from Energy-and-Cleanair points to the paradoxes in China’s coal market. Import growth in April and amounted to 73% year on year. This seems paradoxical, as domestic coal supply has recently increased sharply, growing by 10.5% in 2022 and 5.5% in Q1 2023. At the same time, total coal consumption increased by 4.3% in 2022 and 3. 6% in Q1 2023 Production of heat, the main recipient of imported coal, increased by 1.4% year-on-year in 2022 and by 1.7% in Q1 2023.

S&P Global Commodity Insights predicts that in 2023 China will import record-high volumes of coal, estimating their size from 375 to 385 million tons.

“Tensions in global energy markets have eased this year, so coal is flowing into China from abroad,” Zeng Xiang, thermal coal analyst at First Futures, told In his view, China’s domestic coal prices have fallen as supply has caught up with demand, which could reduce the price advantage of imported coal, Zeng said.

This is good news for Poland importers who intend to replenish coal stocks mined in our mines. Currently, coal contract prices are from about 45% to over 60% lower than in the middle of last year. Therefore, there is a chance to rebuild the resources and strengthen the energy security of the state at lower costs than last year.