Oil report

China Oct coal imports fall 15.2% from prior month

* Oct coal imports at 25.69 mln T vs 30.29 mln T in Sept

* Traders slow purchases on narrow spreads, uncertain import policy

BEIJING, Nov 8 (Reuters) - China’s coal imports in October dropped 15.2% from a month earlier, as traders slowed purchases as the government’s import policy remains uncertain and the spread between domestic and seaborne prices narrowed.

The world’s largest coal buyer imported 25.69 million tonnes of coal in October, according to data released by the General Administration of Customs on Friday. This was up 11.3% from 23.08 million tonnes imported a year ago.

January to October coal imports were up 9.6% at 276.24 million tonnes compared with 251.94 million tonnes a year ago.

Traders expect coal import prospects to remain bleak for the rest of the year following a tightening of import restrictions imposed by several customs authorities, from Guangzhou in the south to Yingkou in the north.

Government policy, although never stated publicly, requires that annual imports do not exceed the previous year’s level.

In 2018, China brought in a total of 281.23 million tonnes of coal.

Last year, China severely limited coal imports in the final two months by halting shipment clearances, curtailing imports of the fuel by 54% in December.

Meanwhile, China has been shutting hundreds of small-scale coal mines that use outdated equipment, and replacing them with bigger mechanised collieries using advanced technology. It has approved 40 new “modernised” domestic coal mines, with a total capacity of 196 million tonnes, in the first three quarters of 2019.

Reporting by Shivani Singh and Muyu Xu in Beijing; Editing by Christian Schmollinger