Impact of China’s brutal coal ban revealed


Australia's coal trade with China has plummeted from more than $1 billion a month to just $30 million in the first months of the year, as shocking new figure reveal the depth of Beijing's economic wrath.

No Australian coal has cleared customs there since November, The Courier-Mail understands, while there remain more than 30 ships stocked with millions of tonnes of coal, much of which is from Queensland, stranded off the Chinese coast without approval to dock.

Mining giant BHP has raised the issue of China's restrictions directly with the government in its pre-budget submission.

Hay Point Coal Terminal. Picture: Caitlan Charles
Hay Point Coal Terminal. Picture: Caitlan Charles

Industry sources say there are no new coal sales going ahead with Chinese companies, with the $30 million a month in trade still trickling through since December - just 3 per cent of what it was - coming from the tail end of long-term contracts.

While most of the coal has been redirected to other markets, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan and Korea, the price is often as low as $80 a tonne less than the premium paid by China.

It is a big blow for Queensland, which sold about a third of its coal exports to the Asian superpower.

Last year the state's budget revealed royalties from coal had dropped about $2 billion to $1.6 billion, but it had been forecasting it would bounce back again this year.

A spokesman for state Treasurer Cameron Dick said the government made conservative revenue projections and it was "confident of meeting those projections".

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade data shows that coal trade had consistently been more than $1bn a month since at least July 2018, but it had dropped to $747m in July 2020 and continued to fall until Beijing's order to businesses in November to halt purchases of coal.

Despite the issues faced by the industry with Beijing, a DFAT spokesman said Australia remained a reliable supplier of high-quality resources.

"Australian coal exporters have had some success directing products to other markets as part of a broad rearrangement of global supply chains," he said.

But industry sources said while they maintained good relations with China-based businesses, they did not expect the situation to change an the near future while tensions continue between Beijing and Canberra.

As at April 8, 33 vessels were still off the coast, two with thermal coal and the remaining 31 carrying metallurgical coal.

It's understood some five to seven ships a month have been allowed to dock and unload their cargo, none of it has cleared customs.

BHP in its pre-budget submission raised escalating tensions with China as one of the three key issues facing the industry.

"As at December 2020, China had imposed trade restrictions on 10 commodities representing $24 billion worth of Australian exports," the submission stated.

Australian diplomats are continuing to raise issues with the Chinese Government, both bilaterally and through the World Trade Organisation.

Originally published as Impact of China's brutal coal ban revealed