China, the world's largest coal producer, is expected to import 24.2 million tons to 24.5 million tons of coal this year, and the figure is likely to increase slightly next year, China Daily said on Thursday.
The report, citing Pan Wanze, deputy managing director of China Coal Import and Export Company, said China bought 18.76 million tons of coal from foreign companies for the first three quarters of this year, an increase of 55 percent year-on-year, while the coal export witnessed a 25.5 percent drop to 54.17 million tons for the same period.
"It (the increase in coal imports) is a long-term trend," Pan told a China Coal Market Summit which concluded on Wednesday in Beijing.
A tight coal supply in the domestic market combined with government policy incentives has driven China's coal consumers to import more coal from overseas.
Although the country's coal supply has improved dramatically this year thanks to a production increase, transport network expansion and macro-controls to contain demand, coal consumers in the domestic market will still likely suffer from a supply shortage.
The central government has short-listed a total of 8,648 small coal collieries to be closed by the end of this year for not meeting safety and quality controls, and this move will account for 100 million tons of coal output, some 2.5 percent to 5 percent of the nation's total demand for coal.
"If that happens, the nation's coal output will undoubtedly reduce," said Wu.
The likely production cut, together with China's surging demand in sectors such as power and petrochemicals will continue to keep the supply tight for next year and boost domestic coal prices, which have seen a slight retreat this year, said industry analysts.
The coal consumers in coastal regions in eastern and southern China, such as Guangdong Province, have turned to coal producers in countries including Indonesia, Vietnam and Mongolia, where prices are lower, especially for thermal coal and anthracite used for making petrochemicals, said Pan.