Vietnam’s coal imports dropped 51% month on month in September

vietnam-coal-importHanoi—Vietnam’s coal imports dropped 51% month on month to 153,592 mt in September, according to Vietnam Customs data released late Wednesday.

The value of the imports for the month stood at $22.6 million, down 39.6% on the month. Vietnam Customs did not release data for last September. The country has actively imported coal this year to meet rising domestic demand, particularly that
from power sector.

Indonesia was the biggest supplier in September at 88,569 mt, or 57.7%, of the total. Surprisingly, in September Vietnam imported 63,935 mt of coal (41.6%) from China, its leading coal buyer for years. During January-September, Vietnam imported 2.2 million mt of coal, up 32.5% year on year. The import value in the period was $272 million, up 41.2%.

Over the nine-month period, Vietnam mostly imported coal from Indonesia (1.07 million mt, or 48.6% of thetotal), Australia (435,837 mt, or 19.8%) and China (356,048 mt, or 16.2%). Meanwhile, Vietnam — which mainly produces and exports thermal coal — exported 585,495 mt of coal in September, down 27.2% year on-year, but up 9.6% from August. Exports in September were worth $46 million, 22.3% lower year on year, but up 21.7% above the August value. China remained the biggest buyer of Vietnam’s coal in September (334,908 mt or 57.2% of the total), which was followed by South Korea (123,508 mt or 21.1%) and Japan (95,111 mt or 16.2%).

In January-September, Vietnam exported 5.84 million mt of coal, slipping 34.9% year on year. The export valuein the period was $435 million, 32.9% lower than thesame period in 2013. During January-September, Vietnam mainly exported its coal to China (3.58 million mt, or 61.3% of the total), South Korea (961,441 mt, or 16.4%) and Japan (780,305mt, or 13.4%).

Vietnam has imported coal for several years: official

Coal vietnamCoal exporter Vietnam imported the fuel last month but it was not the first-ever shipment as previously reported by local media, an industry official said Monday.

“The 9,500-ton shipment from Indonesia in June 2012 was not the first; Vietnam started importing coal around five years ago with an annual volume between 400,000 and 500,000 tons,” Le Minh Chuan, general director of state mining group Vinacomin, said at a meeting Monday.

Chuan said it was necessary to purchase coal even though the country is an exporter itself.

“In 2011 the country is set to produce 44 million tons of coal, but local demand is 27.5 million tons so we haveto export 16.54 million tons,” he said. “If we kept the coal, there wouldn’t be enough storage space for it.”

Explaining the imports, he said the country needed to purchase coal to “make acquaintance with trading partners and prepare for infrastructure.”

It was not the first time Vinacomin has defended its coal purchase over the past few weeks. Since the shipment from Indonesia arrived on June 13, critics have said the group should have halted exports to ensure local supply so that it does not have to depend on foreign sources.

Vinacomin officials, however, argued that the cheap imports would be used to power local steel and cement plants while Vietnamese coal is of higher quality and thus better suited for export.

Chuan said at Monday’s meeting that the company would continue to import the fuel this year.

According to news website VnExpress, Vinacomin plans to import about 10 million tons of coal in 2012, and this is expected to gradually increase to 100 million tons by 2020.

Vietnam is set to face a serious coal shortage in 2020, with a shortfall of up to 66 million tons.