NSW thermal coal exports were at near-record levels last year but prices were up, the Minerals Council of NSW has said after appraising annual statistics provided by the industry body Coal Services.
The council’s chief executive, Stephen Galilee, said NSW thermal coal exports topped 140 million tonnes in 2017, only just below 2016 volumes and more than 15 per cent higher than they were in 2012.
Thermal coal is used in power stations, while higher-energy coking coal – often found in the same deposits – is used in steelmaking.
“Coal is our state’s most valuable export so it’s great for the NSW economy that demand for our thermal coal continues to be strong,” Mr Galilee said.
He said growth in demand was led by China, which lifted its imports of NSW coal by almost 10 per cent to 23.7 million tonnes.
In other key markets, exports of thermal coal to Japan rose by 2.4 per cent to 64.3 million tonnes while exports to Korea rose by 0.6 per cent to 20.1 million tonnes. The Philippines took 1.5 million tonnes, up 17 per cent, and Thailand 3.2 million tonnes, up 7.2 per cent.
Japan continued to be the biggest buyer of NSW thermal coal, accounting for 45 per cent of the market in 2017, followed by China with 17 per cent and Taiwan and Korea, each with 14 per cent.
Coal remained the state’s most valuable export, accounting for 18 per cent of exports by value.
While tonnages were relatively flat across the board, Mr Galilee said the price had risen sharply in the 18 months to December. The average free-on-board (FOB) price of coal went from $68.27 in June 2016 to $114.82 in Deember 2017, the highest price since December 2011.
Total NSW coal exports, including coking coal, topped 163 million tonnes, down from 170 million tonnes the previous year. Mr Galilee said the decline was largely due to a sharp decline in coking coal export volumes through Port Kembla.
“After a very tough few years, the ongoing strong demand for NSW thermal coal over 2017 is encouraging, as is the recovery in coal prices that has boosted activity and confidence across the NSW mining sector,” Mr Galilee said.
“Growth in exports to our second largest market, China, along with significant growth across emerging markets in Southeast Asia demonstrate the significant economic opportunities for NSW, provided we get the policy settings right here in NSW.
“The NSW Government has made progress in meeting its commitment to halve planning assessment time frames for major mining projects. While there is still more be done, if we can lock in policies that support NSW mining, we’ll build on these positive export figures, attract investment and create more jobs in our state.”