Vietnam absorbed some of the surplus arising from Beijing’s informal ban on Australian coal, with imports from Australia reaching a record 20.34mn t in 2020, up from 15.7mn t a year earlier, customs data show. In contrast, Vietnam imported 16.85mn t from Indonesia last year, which was up from 15.3mn t in 2019. Imports from both countries totaled 37.19mn t last year, accounting for more than two-thirds of Vietnam’s total imports of 54.81mn t. Vietnamese customs data do not differentiate between coking and thermal coal.
The trend may continue, given the country’s increasing appetite for thermal coal to power its growing economy. It was also an opportunistic buyer of additional seaborne supplies at unusually competitive prices as it helped absorb some of the Covid-19 pandemic-driven oversupply in Asia, particularly from Australia and at one point from South Africa. The country was also one of the beneficiaries in December when China imported no Australian thermal coal for the first month since March 2008, and producers tried even harder to connect with buyers in southeast Asia.
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 Co-operation on 28 December agreed to finance the construction of a 1.2GW power plant in central Vietnam.