* Permitting "all kinds" of imports hits domestic market
* Traders say some cargoes delayed for weeks by customs
(Adds details, industry context)
BEIJING, March 15 China is ramping up controls
on imports of low-quality coal due to concerns about smog and
overcapacity in the world's top coal consumer, a government
official said on Wednesday, as traders report some cargoes have
been delayed by customs checks.
"As long as coal meets standards, we don't forbid imports,
but we are imposing controls on low-quality coal imports," said
Zhi Shuping, head of the Administration of Quality Supervision,
Inspection and Quarantine which oversees imports safety.
"If we let all kinds of coal import into domestic market, it
will hit the domestic market," Zhi said, speaking on the
sidelines of the annual meeting of China's parliament.
Sustained checks will unsettle global miners and traders who
have enjoyed months of a coal buying spree by China that helped
propel prices to multi-year highs, bringing the industry out of
a prolonged bear market. Prices have soared to multi-year highs
this week amid broader concerns about tighter supplies and
Delays in processing imports could further constrain supply,
sending domestic prices higher. That could have the effect of
undermining government efforts to keep prices stable as Beijing
seeks to close outdated mines, increase use of cleaner,
renewable fuels and make bloated heavy industry more efficient.
Zhi's comments come as some international traders have
complained about delays running into weeks in getting some
cargoes cleared through customs in China due to tougher
inspections for sulphur and mercury content at ports. Last year,
Zhi's agency rejected 1.5 million tonnes of imported coal, he
said - less than 1 percent of China's total coal imports.
One official at a global merchant, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said his company's shipments into Jiangsu province
took longer than usual to get customs clearance.
It's not clear how widespread the checks are and Zhi did not
say when the crackdown started. Some experts said it could be
linked to the two-week annual meeting of China's parliament,
which ends on Wednesday.
Last week, a senior politician from Shanxi, one of the
country's top producing regions, proposed curbing imports of
low-quality coal as a radical measure for curing China's
Speaking on the sidelines of parliament, Wang Fu, vice
governor of the province, suggested targeting coal from
Indonesia, which accounted for almost 40 million tonnes, or 15
percent of total arrivals, last year.
The proposal is unlikely to get passed into law and would
likely face hefty resistance from power producers, which still
rely on coal. But the comment underlines the challenge of
getting wary provincial governments on board to tackle excess
and close inefficient operations.
(Reporting by Meng Meng, Hallie Gu and Josephine Mason in
BEIJING and Fergus Jensen in JAKARTA; Writing by Josephine
Mason; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)