(Adds Chinese Foreign Ministry comments)
BEIJING Feb 24 China's coal imports from North
Korea eased last month after new U.N. Security Council sanctions
curbing the isolated country's sales abroad came into effect,
while Russia, Mongolia, Australia and Indonesia raised
shipments, data showed on Friday.
January imports from North Korea eased 13 percent from a
year earlier to 1.45 million tonnes, the data showed. They were
down 28 percent from December.
January's volume accounted for almost 20 percent of the
latest U.N. annual sales quota of 7.5 million tonnes or $400.9
million, whichever is smaller, on North Korea's biggest export.
The imports last month came before Beijing's decision last
Saturday to ban coal shipments entirely after Pyongyang tested
an intermediate-range ballistic missile in its first direct
challenge to the international community since U.S. President
Donald Trump took office.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he had
not seen the latest figures, but that the latest U.N. resolution
was clear about limiting North Korea's coal exports and China
would fully enforce Security Council resolutions.
"According to our statistics, China has already approached
the upper limits of coal imports from North Korea," Geng told a
daily news briefing. "So because of this, we have stopped
imports of coal from North Korea with a responsible attitude."
Sources said the few traders that have been left handling
North Korean coal had been scooping up the fuel in recent weeks
amid earlier speculation Beijing would slap a ban on imports
after Pyongyang's recent ballistic missile test.
North Korea was China's biggest supplier last year of
high-grade anthracite coal, used mainly by the country's steel
mills, with imports reaching 22.4 million tonnes, up 14.5
percent compared with 2015.
Analysts have said steel mills will likely be forced to buy
more expensive domestic anthracite or seek alternatives further
afield from Russia or Australia, driving up costs.
Coal shipments from Mongolia COA-MNCN-IMP rose 154 percent
to 3.12 million tonnes, the fourth highest on record, as traders
took advantage of its significant price advantage over
Australian imports COA-AUCN-IMP were up 70.8 percent from
a year earlier at 7.27 million tonnes.
Australian Newcastle spot prices fell sharply
from about $93 per tonne at the end of December to about $83 by
the end of January.
(Reporting by Josephine Mason and Meng Meng; Additional
reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Richard Pullin and Tom