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BEIJING: China’s coal imports from Russia in March fell 30% from a year earlier, as fears of sanctions impeded purchases and China generally bought less foreign coal.

The world’s biggest coal consumer imported 3.12 million tonnes from Russia last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Wednesday.

That was down from 4.43 million tonnes in March 2021.

China’s total coal imports in March slid by 40% from a year earlier, as record-high domestic output and government-capped prices made overseas supply less attractive.

Chinese traders also scaled back imports of Russian coal as they struggled to secure financing from state banks that worried about potential foreign sanctions after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Because the European Union plans to ban Russian coal imports, prices of Russian shipments are expected to plunge. Some Chinese traders in recent weeks have begun asking for cheap cargoes and sought to settle the payment in yuan, bypassing the SWIFT transaction system, to which Russia has limited access.

Refinitiv’s trade flows data shows that, as of April 20, 3.23 million tonnes of seaborne Russian coal was expected to arrive in China in April.

Analysts estimated that China could import 20 million tonnes more Russian coal in 2022 than last year.

Customs data on Wednesday also showed shipments from Indonesia reached 10.02 million tonnes in March, down from 16.47 million tonnes a year before.

Arrivals from Australia were recorded at 342,735 tonnes in March. That coal had finally passed through customs clearance after waiting in Chinese ports since late 2020, when an unofficial ban on imports of the fuel from Australia began.

China’s imports of coking coal, used in steelmaking, fell by 23% last month from a year earlier to 3.76 million tonnes, the customs data showed, mostly due to a 55% plunge in shipments from Mongolia.

However, the country’s purchase of the metallurgical coal from Russia - which overtook Mongolia as China’s top supplier - surged 160% to 1.4 million tonnes from 550,444 tonnes in March 2021, the data showed.

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