China’s Coal Market – Can Beijing Tame ‘King Coal’?

Since 2009, China has turned from a net coal exporter to a net importer, and by a large margin. In 2013, the country accounted for almost a quarter of global steam coal imports. This shift has had a tremendous impact on global trade and prices. China has become a price setter for steam coal after overtaking Japan in 2009 as the world’s biggest importer. Increasing imports have exacerbated oversupply on the domestic market and led to a dramatic fall in coal prices and revenues of coal miners. The government is determine to improve the health of the coal industry, while at the same time combatting air pollution from coal mining, transport and combustion. The new policy measures adopted since September 2013, such as the Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan, the mandated reduction in coal production and imports, the ban on low-grade coal imports and sales, have a significant impact on the level of coal supply and demand. Short, medium- and long-term market and policy developments, however, have different impacts on international steam coal trade.
This paper analyzes key policy and market developments in the Chinese coal market and their possible impact on global coal trade. It reviews recent policy changes that aim at curbing China’s coal demand and reducing the environmental footprint of coal. The report puts a special emphasis on Chinese coal imports and competition between domestic and imported coal. It assesses the impact of the measures adopted recently by the government on global trade at short, medium and long-term.

Executive Summary

By: Sylvie Cornot-Gandolphe