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Seaborne coal trade from Australia to China is back this year, as the two countries have mended broker relations, ever since the aftermath of the COVID virus outbreak. This is reflected in trade patterns.

In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Banchero Costa said that “global coal trade has really picked up pace in recent months, and is now fully back to pre-Covid levels. In Jan-Sep 2023, total global seaborne coal loadings increased by +5.5% y-o-y to 991.7 mln t (excluding cabotage), based on vessel tracking data from AXS Marine. This was well above the 939.6 mln t loaded in Jan-Sep 2022, the 947.1 mln t in Jan-Sep 2021, and the 881.8 mln t in Jan-Sep 2020. It was also a little above the 974.9 mln t loaded in Jan-Sep 2019.

In Jan-Sep 2023, exports from Indonesia increased by +9.8% y-o-y to 361.2 mln t, whilst from Australia were up +3.3% y-o-y to 254.2 mln t. From Russia exports increased by +3.0% y-o-y to 143.4 mln t in Jan-Sep 2023, from the USA increased by +13.6% y-o-y to 63.6 mln t, and from South Africa decline -2.6% y-o-y to 44.7 mln t. Shipments from Mozambique surged by +21.7% t-o-y in Jan-Sep 2023 to a record 17.7 mln t.

Seaborne coal imports into Mainland China jumped by +60.6% y-o-y to 269.5 mln t in Jan-Sep 2023, whilst imports to India declined by -2.8% yo-y to 171.0 mln t. Imports to Japan declined by -9.4% y-o-y to 121.4 mln t in Jan-Sep 2023, to South Korea by -4.7% y-o-y to 88.8 mln t, to the EU -25.4% y-o-y to 70.4 mln t, to Vietnam increased by +48.3% y-o-y to 36.0 mln t”.

According to Banchero Costa, “Australia is the second largest exporter of coal worldwide, with 25.6% of global seaborne coal exports in Jan-Sep 2023, quite far behind Indonesia which had a 36.4% share in Jan-Sep 2023. Coal shipments from Australia have been drastically affected in recent years by the country being backlisted by Mainland China, previously Australia’s largest customer. That said, Australian exporters have been relatively successful in finding new markets limiting the impact on overall volumes.

In 2020, Australian coal exports fell sharply by -7.1% y-o-y to 361.2 mln t, from 388.9 mln tonnes in 2019, based on AXS Marine data. In 2021, volumes out of Australia remained essentially flat at 356.9 mln t, or -1.2% y-o-y. In the 12 months of 2022, shipments from Australia declined further by -7.8% y-o-y to 329.1 mln tonnes. “The main coal export terminals in Australia are Newcastle (77.7 mln tonnes loaded in Jan-Sep 2023), Gladstone (49.7 mln t), Dalrymple Bay (44.9 mln t), Hay Point (29.1 mln t), Abbot Point (24.3 mln t), Port Kembla (4.8 mln t), Brisbane (1.7 mln t), Whyalla (0.2 mln t).

The majority (56%) of coal volumes shipped from Australia in Jan-Sep 2023 were loaded on Panamax or Post-Panamax tonnage, with 41% of volumes shipped on Capesize vessels, and 3% on Handy or Supra tonnage. There have been quite remarkable reshuffles in terms of trade patterns over the last few years, driven by political considerations. Coal exports from Australia to Mainland China declined by -99.3% y-o-y in Jan-Dec 2021, to just 0.5 mln tonnes, from 66.6 mln t in 2020”, the shipbroker said.

“In Jan-Sep 2023, shipments from Australia to China surged back as relations normalized, to 38.7 mln tonnes, from 0.2 mln t in Jan-Sep 2022, but still below the 64.6 mln t of Jan-Sep 2020. Pretty much the opposite happened to India. In 2021, Australia exported 70.1 mln t of coal to India, up +35.8% y-o-y, from 51.6 mln in 2020. In 2022, however, shipments from Australia to India slowed down by -21.6% y-o-y to 54.9 mln tonnes, due to a greater availability of Indonesian coal. In Jan-Sep 2023, Australia exported 37.7 mln t of coal to India, down -9.2% y-o-y from 41.5 mln t in JanSep 2022.

The top destination however is still Japan, with 76.1 mln tonnes in JanSep 2023, down -14.7% y-o-y, but still accounting for 29.9% of Australian coal exports. China now accounts for 15.2% of Australia’s coal exports, with India 14.8%, Korea 9.5%, Taiwan 9.0%, Vietnam 5.9%, and the EU at 5.4%”, Banchero Costa concluded.

Source : Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide