As the financial crisis squeezes global demand for coal, foreign coal producers are seeing potential opportunities in China, and chief among them is Vietnam.
A busy coal dock at Ningbo Port in Zhejiang Province.
Lin Huijiang, a senior coal trader, told 21st Century Business Herald that his company will import 3,000 tons of coal from Vietnam soon and its import volume in 2009 would exceed one million tons.
Lin said the major markets for Vietnamese coal exporters are Guangdong province and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in South China, which account for 80 percent of their coal exports.
In 2009, Vietnam is planning to export over 19.5 million tons of coal out of the country's total coal output of 41 million tons, a Vietnamese newspaper reported.
At the annual coal prices negotiation conference recently, China's five leading power companies failed to reach an agreement with coal miners on next year's annual supply contracts.
A gap between China's domestic coal prices and international prices has attracted some foreign coal companies. Although both have been declining, internal coal prices are relatively higher than international ones.
At Qinghuangdao port, price of 5500-kilocalorie quality coal from Shanxi province reached 570 to 590 yuan per ton on Jan 8, 2009.
However, price of 5400-kilocalorie coal from Vietnam was 550 yuan per ton and price of the same coal from Indonesia was 520 yuan per ton, according to figures from Guangzhou port.
An expert at China Electricity Council, who declined to be named, said although exported coal prices at Guangzhou port are competitive, because many Chinese coal power plants are located in Northern areas, it would cost more if transport cost is included.
He said coal imported from Indonesia and Vietnam wouldn't influence the Chinese market very much in the short term.
An official from China Coal Energy Co Ltd said foreign countries' expansion of coal exports to China would have a small impact on Chinese coal enterprises, but it would be a threat when they set up plants in China.
He said the government will carry out certain policies to balance coal exports and imports if foreign coal enterprises increase their coal exports to China.
Wang Guangju, an analyst at Huatai Securities, predicted that the surplus of coal in China would exceed 350 million tons in 2009.
Huang Shenchu, president of the Beijing-based China Coal Information Institute (CCII), said due to impacts of the economic meltdown, the decreasing coal prices in China and across the global are unlikely to be reversed in 2009.
Wang said if China's GDP go back to 9 percent, China's coal supply and demand would be balanced until 2010.
(China Daily January 15, 2009)