Upstream issues affecting Australia from meeting Asian thermal coal demand
Asia’s import demand for seaborne-traded thermal coal is expected to grow by about 55%, and equivalent to 400 million mt, over 2017-2030 to 1.14 billion mt, the Minerals Council of Australia said in a report released Tuesday.
India and Indonesia are seen as demand centers by the report’s authors, Commodity Insights analysts, and the forecast rise in demand is double Australia’s current thermal coal exports of 200 million mt.
“Demand growth is evenly spread across the region, with all countries except Japan increasing imports across the period, and growth in Chinese demand remaining relatively flat,” the report said.
Imports by India were also expected to increase as domestic production would not be able to keep pace with demand growth, especially for coal-fired power plants built far away from domestic production centers, it said.
Thermal coal supply from Indonesia could tighten following the commissioning of new coal-fired capacity over the next decade, which will potentially divert large volumes from the export market to domestic use, the report pointed out.
“Australian infrastructure for both rail and port can support an expansion in thermal coal exports, thanks to a range of upgrades during the last export boom of 2010-12,” it said.
The analysts did warn that there was currently over 100 million mt of spare or underutilized capacity at Australian coal ports on the east coast.
“So, unlike the last boom, when infrastructure was the constraint (causing massive vessel queues at Newcastle and Mackay), the constraint at present is upstream at the coal mines, which have been slow to ramp up volumes,” it added.
“The ability of the Australian thermal coal sector to successfully manage these issues will be crucial in enabling them to participate in the significant growth opportunities forecast in Asia out to 2030,” it said.
Commodity Insights said that historically it has taken a minimum of four years for Australian thermal coal exports to respond to higher prices, adding that it would probably take even longer now.
“We believe that suppliers in Australia will respond, but the response will be slower than [from] other exporters,” it said.