China’s growing importance as a challenger was signaled by Guo Kemu, vice president of the China National Coal Import & Export (Group) Corp. He said China's total coal exports would leap to more than 70 million tonnes in 2001, after improvements in transport infrastructure.
This followed last year 50% increase in exports to 58.83Mt, making China the world's third largest coal exporter, after Australia and South Africa but ahead of Indonesia. Japanese steel makers are reportedly taking notice of China’s ability to compete, after the recent price increases won by Australian producers.
Australia is forecast to export a total of 204.8Mt of coal in 2001/02, comprising both metallurgical and thermal coal, up from 199.5Mt the year before.
Indonesia, one of Australia’s other competitors is also increasing production. Graeme Robertson, president and director of leading exporter PT Adaro, said Indonesian exports were expected to rise to 64Mt this year up from 57.3Mt in 2000. About 55Mt of this was destined for Asian markets.
The top 10 exporters of coking coal, used in steelmaking, account for 48% of supply while the 10 biggest in steam coal, to generate electricity, ship 46%, said Glyn Lawcock, director of resources research at UBS Warburg. In contrast, the top 10 steel producers account for 24% of that industry.
BHP Coal and Rio Tinto's Australian operation Coal & Allied Industries predicted a continuation of industry consolidation. BHP is set to become the world's third largest coal producer when its merger with Billiton is complete.