U.S. coal exports fell 18% to 60.3 million short tons in 2016, from 74 million short tons in 2015, despite increases in international coal prices last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. While 2016 marked the fourth consecutive decline in exports, the United States remained a net exporter of coal, importing 9.8 million short tons.
“Slow growth in world coal demand combined with supplier competition were the primary factors contributing to the decline in U.S. coal exports,” according to the EIA. “Lower mining costs, cheaper transportation costs and favorable exchange rates continue to provide a market advantage to other major coal-exporting countries such as Australia, Indonesia, Colombia, Russia and South Africa.”
In 2016, almost 80% of U.S. coal that was exported went to 10 countries. The decline in exports to nine out of those 10 countries comprised of two-thirds of the decrease in U.S. exports. Exports to Brazil rose 0.6 million short tons. China and Morocco also imported more U.S. coal, but accounted for “only a small fraction of total U.S. coal exports,” according to the EIA.
U.S. coal imports fell 13%, from 2015, and it was the first decline since 2013. Nearly 90% of imported coal is steam coal, which is largely used to generate electricity. The majority of coal was imported from Colombia, but imports from the country fell 12% or 1 million short tons in 2016. Metallurgical coal imports, which mostly come from Canada, fell 44% or 0.8 million short tons in 2016.