(Repeats with no changes to text. The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters. )
By Clyde Russell
LAUNCESTON, Australia, Dec 6 (Reuters) - It’s not shaping up as a merry Christmas for coal exporters to Asia as the region’s top buyers, China and India, pull back from the recent trend of strong imports.
The Chinese authorities appear to be making good on a commitment to try and limit the country’s imports of the polluting fuel to levels the same as 2017.
The restrictions have led to a sharp drop in the daily import of coal so far in December, according to vessel-tracking and port data compiled by Refinitiv.
Seaborne imports in the first five days of the month stood at 1.5 million tonnes, or a daily rate of just 300,000 tonnes.
This compares to total seaborne imports of 226.2 million tonnes in the first 11 months of 2018, a daily rate of about 677,000 tonnes.
The authorities in Beijing have told coal traders and utilities they want imports for the whole year to be similar to the 279 million tonnes in 2017.
This is likely going to be a challenge since customs data showed imports for the first 10 months of the year were 252 million tonnes, up 11 percent from the same period in 2017.
With vessel-tracking data pointing to November seaborne imports of about 18.3 million tonnes, this would in theory leave only about 9 million tonnes available for December.
At the rate of imports for the first five days of December, this may just be possible, as it suggests about 9.3 million tonnes for the month as a whole.
However, the ship-tracking data doesn’t cover overland imports, mainly from neighbouring Mongolia, meaning it’s likely that 2018 imports will probably exceed those of 2017.
But the sharp reduction in imports so far in December shows Beijing’s message to the industry is being heeded.