031110 A new study has found that SA coal reserves have been significantly downsized since 2003.photo by Simphiwe Mbokazi 453

China's imports of South African thermal coal rose to 2.1 million tonnes in July, nearly 35 percent of total shipments of 6.3 million tonnes, exporters said.

Despite widespread defaults by Chinese trading firms and end-users, China's coal imports have remained strong during the past several months.

“It was a big import month for China,” one exporter said.

China's record thermal and metallurgical coal imports in the first half of this year were not enough to prevent thermal coal prices from dropping to two-year lows in June or the slump in metallurgical coal which began last month, suppliers said.

China imported 140 million tonnes of all types of coal in the first half, a 65 percent rise on year-ago levels.

Indian spot demand has been steady but given the lack of buying in Europe, if China had not taken increasing volumes from South Africa, the Richards Bay FOB benchmark price would be sharply lower than current levels of around $88-$90, traders said.

India, which has been the biggest importing country of South African coal for several years, took 1.7 million tonnes in July, little changed from 1.6 million in the previous month.

Asia, including India, accounted for 5 million tonnes of exports.

The Atlantic had for decades until 2006 been the largest, key market for South African producers but its share has been shrinking annually, displaced by cheaper coal from Colombia and the United States.

The Atlantic market's share rose to 1.3 million tonnes from 830,000 tonnes in June. - Reuters