Published: Fri, February 22, 2019
Finance | By Loren Pratt

China customs testing Australian coal imports, reports of ban

China customs testing Australian coal imports, reports of ban

Both currencies steadied after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is visiting New Zealand, said the Chinese move doesn't point to a souring of ties between Australia and China.

The US is seeking to secure a pledge from China it will not devalue its yuan as part of an agreement meant to end the countries' trade war, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

The Port of Dalian is set to cap overall coal imports from all sources at 12 million tons until the end of 2019, according to an official at Dalian Port Group, operator of the sea transportation hub, as quoted by Reuters.

It said other Chinese ports had delayed Australian coal shipments in recent months.

"A prolonged China-wide ban could have enormous implications for markets in both countries", he said.

Coal imports from Russian Federation and Indonesia aren't being affected by the ban.

When asked why only Australian coal has been banned, Mr Geng said it's "normal practice" and proceeded to mock Australia's concerns.

Oil prices were also helped by output cuts from top producers and United States sanctions on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members Iran and Venezuela.

Westpac senior currency strategist Sean Callow told AFP that while the Australian dollar dropped one per cent to 70.90 USA cents late yesterday following the initial coal ban reports, the market was calmer early today.

The Australian dollar has been hit hard by the news and was on Friday morning trading down nearly three-quarters of a percentage point at US70.93¢ since the news broke on Thursday.

Dalian handles both thermal and coking coal imports but the clampdown is expected to have a bigger impact on coking coal compared to thermal coal.

Australian beef and wine exporters previous year blamed politics when their products were held up at Chinese ports, after then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull implicitly criticized Chinese meddling in Australian politics and universities.

But on Friday, Frydenberg said people should not "jump to conclusions" about the reasons behind the reported ban, saying Australia's export relationship with China was based on "mutual benefit".

Beijing has also been trying to restrict imports of coal more generally to support domestic prices.

"We continue to engage closely with industry on matters of market access..."

"Current inventory at ports should be sufficient to support usage for one or two months, but it could be a problem in the long term, especially if other ports also tighten imports", he added.

Mr Frydenberg said: "We can see these occasional interruptions to the smooth flow but that doesn't necessarily translate to some of the consequences that aspects of the media might seek to leap to".

While China has a history of using trade as leverage to help it achieve its foreign policy goals, it also regularly tweaks import limits to steer its coal market, the world's largest, as the country tries to ease its reliance on the fuel.

"The immediate step was to find out from China what is happening".

"I don't believe for one moment this is linked to some of the higher level issues of relationships between China and the rest of the world, and including with us".

It's entirely possible that if that cannot enter the Chinese market then it can go to other markets, ' he said.

Industry experts have noted recently that China appeared to be delaying customs clearances for Australian coking coal used in steel-making, but a report late yesterday that ports in the northern city of Dalian had banned the shipments sent the Aussie dollar plunging.

Glencore, Peabody Energy and BHP have been pegged as the miners most likely to be impacted by any ban or restriction of Australian coal.

However, currency markets are likely to remain on edge for some time. This could also be part of the efforts of China to pivot more to USA supply in an effort to balance trade.

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