A very important data point for the global thermal coal market emerged this week, with one of the world’s largest importing nations saying that it may go the opposite direction — and start exporting supply.
That’s India — where Coal India Ltd, the world’s largest producer of thermal coal, dropped some unexpected news on Tuesday. With officials saying they are looking at options to deal with increasing domestic supply across India.
This major revelation came in the form of a brief Twitter posting from India’s Coal Secretary Anil Swarup (Twitter being a noted form of government communication in this part of the world). With the Secretary saying simply that Coal India is “exploring avenues to export coal”.
Secretary Swarup noted that the sudden move toward exports comes as Coal India is seeing record production from its mines across India. A consequence of a major policy push from the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — which has been moving to lift both India’s coal production and the transport infrastructure necessary to move supply to power plants around the nation.
Sources in Coal India interviewed by Bloomberg noted that rising production and leveling demand from India’s electricity sector have led to a major buildup of inventories at many power plants. With these officials saying that an oversupply of up to 50 million tonnes is prompting the firm to look at exporting the excess. Related: Oil Crashes As Crippled Pound Drags Down Equities, Bonds
Such a move toward exports would be a major shift for the global coal market. With India up until now being one of the most critical import markets in the world — having brought in a record 212.1 million tonnes in the year ended March 31, 2015.
If imports moderate here and exports increase, it could leave other coal-supplying nations like Australia, Indonesia and South Africa in the lurch. Scrambling to find new destinations for their production.
For the moment, sources in India have said exports would likely go to nearby nations like Bangladesh and Nepal — which would have a limited effect on global trade patterns. Watch to see how much coal gets shipped out, and whether it starts to go further afield.
Here’s to turning it around,
By Dave Forest
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Perhaps China will become a net coal exporter too.