China port bans Australian coal imports

"This could be a shot across the bow".

China's efforts to control steel production for environmental reasons could be among the alternative reasons, he said. Recently there was similar speculation of retaliation when fishing company Sanford reported running into trouble exporting into China.

The Dalian Port Group announced through Reuters that it was banning coal imports from Australia, and also introducing a total cap on coal imports at 12 million tons for 2019.

Asked if the ban was related to bilateral tensions, Geng Shuang, a spokesman at China's foreign ministry, said that customs were inspecting and testing coal imports for safety and quality. Details of the restrictions were also circulated on Chinese social media on Friday. "We look forward to continuing to cooperate and work together to maintain our strong and mutually beneficial trading relationship", he said. He didn't say whether China was targeting Australia specifically. "China is a valued partner of Australia and we trust that our free-trade agreement commitments to each other will continue to be honoured".

"We believe and understand that these are simple import quotas, consistent with the likes that China has applied before, that China continues to apply and that apply equally to all countries", he said.

When asked why only Australian coal has been banned, Mr Geng said it's "normal practice" and proceeded to mock Australia's concerns.

Ms Adams met with Wang Yilin, the chairman of oil and gas giant China National Petroleum Company for "friendly" talks earlier in the week, according to a story posted on the company's website on Friday, which suggests Australia's LNG imports to China are not threatened for now.

Westpac senior currency strategist Sean Callow told AFP that while the Australian dollar dropped one per cent to 70.90 U.S. cents late yesterday following the initial coal ban reports, the market was calmer early today.

"The reported ban would impact a relatively small proportion of Australia's coal exports - imports through Dalian comprise only 1.8 per cent of Australia's total coal exports - but if the reported ban reflects a more significant deterioration in the trade relationship between Australia and China then it could have more important impacts", he said. Yancoal closed 2.8 per cent weaker, New Hope lost 3.3 per cent, Stanmore Coal was down 2 per cent and Coronado Coal was off 3 per cent. Glencore, a major coal producer, was down more than 3 per cent in London on Thursday night but BHP Billiton stock was steady.

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Australian officials said there was "confusion" over the situation, and they were consulting their Chinese counterparts.

He noted both the value and volume of our coal exports to China were larger in the final quarter of 2018 compared with the previous year.

However, Mr Dhar said the message Chinese officials are sending is the worry. Prices of thermal coal are approximately the same.

Australian Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, has called the reports "unconfirmed and unsourced", and says the Australian Ambassador to Beijing is inquiring with authorities about the decision to clarify the veracity of the reports.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar was in the spotlight after employment numbers for January topped expectations.

The Federal Government is trying to reassure coal exporters Australia's relationship with China is strong, as its top diplomats try to find out if a major Chinese port has banned imports of the crucial commodity. Shipments were now taking more than 40 days to clear customs instead of around 20 previously. China is expected to agree to buy more United States goods as part of a deal being brokered by negotiators in Washington this week.

"I think people should be careful about leaping to conclusions about this", he said. "This is not the first time that on occasion local ports make decisions about these matters", Morrison told reporters in Auckland.

Chinese officials have also responded to the reports, saying the move was aimed at protecting the interests of Chinese importers and the environment.

"It's not particularly Australian in its nature", Andrew Mackenzie, chief of the Melbourne-based company, said about China's coal import slowdown on Tuesday after the miner posted earnings.

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