China's coal imports rose 27.1 percent from a year ago to 4.92 million metric tons in April, according to data released Tuesday by the General Administration of Customs. China's exports for April fell 18.5 percent from last year to 4.46 million tons.
China, the world's top coal producer, became a neat coal importer the first time in January. Between January and April, it was a net exporter only in February. April was the fifth straight month in which China's exports had fallen from a year ago.
If the trend holds, China may become a net coal importer for the full year.
More than 80 percent of China's electricity is produced at coal-fired power plants. China's electricity output rose 15.5 percent in the first quarter from a year ago to 701.2 billion kilowatt-hours, according to a recent statement by the China Electricity Council. Its total power consumption rose 14.92 percent for the quarter to 718.9 billion kilowatt-hours.
Last year, the government scrapped export rebates on coal Sept. 15 to encourage the use of domestic resources. It also cut coal import tariffs Nov. 1 to 1 percent from 3 percent to 5 percent.
China's exports for the first four months of the year totaled 15.97 million tons, down 28.6 percent from the same period last year. Imports for the period rose 50.5 percent to 19.22 millions.
The strong domestic demand growth has boosted China's coal prices. April's prices of the benchmark free-on-board price of Datong Quality Mix thermal coal were quoted at 480 to 495 yuan a metric ton (US$62.57-US$64.53; EUR46.18-EUR47.63), up 5 percent from a year ago. The benchmark prices hit a record high in mid-January at 515 to 525 yuan a metric ton.