Vietnamese coal imports hit record high in 2020

Vietnamese coal imports rose last year as the country’s steady industrial activity helped to absorb some of the Covid-19 pandemic-driven oversupply in Asia.

Seaborne receipts in December were 4.03mn t, up from the country’s imports of 3.75mn t in November, customs data show. But December imports were down by 6.3pc on a year earlier with some easing after a record run.

The generally robust demand propelled seaborne receipts in 2020 to an all-time high of 54.81mn t, up from 43.77mn t in 2019. Vietnamese customs data do not differentiate between coking and thermal coal.

The country’s economy has proved more resilient this year than other countries, as its efforts to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic ensured business continuity and supported electricity consumption.

Vietnam’s gross domestic product grew by 4.48pc during October-December 2020 compared with a year earlier, according to the general statistics office (GSO). That was also higher than a revised 2.69pc in the previous quarter. Vietnam’s economy will likely grow by about 6.8pc this year, according to the World Bank, up from 2.91pc in 2020. The country’s industrial activity looks steady after rising by 9.5pc in December and 3.36pc last year, supporting the outlook for electricity generation and consumption. Overall electricity generation rose to 19.1TWh last month, up from 18.5TWh in December 2019 and 18.9TWh in November, according to the GSO.

Other factors supporting coal consumption included Vietnamese cement production, which rose in December to an estimated 9.9mn t from 8.7mn t in the same month last year and from 9.6mn t in November. The country also produced 4.33mn t of crude steel last month, up from 1.88mn t a year earlier and 4.17mn t in November. This may have contributed to more coking coal imports, although Vietnamese customs data do not differentiate.

Thermal coal exports to Vietnam (Jan-Nov) mn t

Vietnamese coal imports outstripped domestic coal production of 3.6mn t in December, which was down from 3.9mn t in the same month last year and from 3.8mn t in November. The country produced 48.6mn t of coal in 2020, up from the 46.14mn t in 2019, according to GSO’s provisional estimates.

Australian shipments

The country also helped to absorb some Australian supplies that were frozen out of their traditional key market China, following an unofficial ban imposed by Beijing.


Australia was the leading supplier and accounted for much of the increase in Vietnam’s imports of all grades last month. Vietnam imported 1.86mn t of competitively priced Australian coal, a rise of 27.7pc or about 400,000t from a year earlier.

Indonesian supplies to Vietnam were lower compared with Australia, making up about 1.3mn t of the country’s imports last month. Indonesian shipments were down by 28pc or about 511,500t from the previous year.

Vietnam imported about 431,072t from Russia in December, down from 599,379t the previous year.

There are firm prospects for steady coal imports by Vietnam given a string of scheduled and under-construction projects. This is despite plans to expand renewable capacity in the next 10 years to ease the country’s reliance on coal.

Vietnam is likely to continue to develop 15 planned coal-fired power projects with a combined capacity of 18GW between now and 2026, the sustainable energy think-tank the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said last month.

A consortium led by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation on 28 December agreed to finance the construction of a 1.2GW power plant in central Vietnam.

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