China has emerged as the world's second-largest coal importer and bought nearly 165 million tonnes of coal in 2010 on the back of booming demand and domestic transport constraints.
While the business of importing coal was limited to just a handful of players in the past, several new Chinese trading companies have mushroomed in recent years, hoping to profit from the price difference between more expensive domestic and cheaper overseas supplies.
Here is a factbox of some of the prominent Chinese coal importers:
- State-owned Shenhua Group, China Coal, Shanxi Coal are the country's top 3 coal producers, which have a combined annual output of over a billion tonnes of coal. The trio began importing coal in recent years as imported coal prices including transportation became competitive with domestic production prices, and the coal industry began suffering from frequent bottlenecks in transmission to consumer markets.
The three firms, along with China Minmetals Corp, are the only firms in China which have been granted licenses by the government to export Chinese coal.
- Minmetals Corp, founded in 1950, is the country's largest supplier of iron ore and coking coal for China's steelmaking industry and is also the nation's largest steel trading company. It has in recent years expanded into trading thermal coal, copper, aluminium as well as other non-ferrous metals.
- Sinosteel, established in 1993, began as an iron ore and steel trader supporting China's steelmaking industry. The firm, a long-time coking coal trader, has begun to import bituminous-grade thermal coal as domestic supplies of quality coal became more scarce.
- Baosteel Group, China's largest steel maker, signed a preliminary agreement with Switzerland's Bulk Trading in 2010 to buy an unspecified volume of thermal coal.
- Hong Kong-listed Qinfa Group is the largest non state-owned coal supplier in China which trades around 10 million tonnes of coal each year, of which 70 percent are imported materials, traders said. Qinfa sources its coal from domestic and overseas market, such as Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam, it said on its website.
- Guangdong Fuels Co. Ltd, founded in 1958, is a sizeable energy and commodities trader supplying large and mid-size firms in China's southern Guangdong province. It sells around 3 million tonnes of thermal coal to local power plants and cement makers each year, of which around 2 million tonnes are imported from Indonesia as well as Australia, traders said.
- Beijing-based RGL Group is a private steel and iron ore trader that has recently branched out to thermal coal trading. The firm imports around 3-5 million tonnes of steam coal per year, according to traders. Another steel trader to have also ventured into steam coal is Sino-Trust, which ships about 2 million tonnes of coal a year.