Customs data has shown that China's coal imports in the first quarter fell 42% on a year earlier, amid tepid demand and tighter quality checks.
Imports by the world's biggest coal consumer reached 49.07 million t in the first three months of the year, according to data from the General Administration of Customs.
Imports for March were up 11.6% on the previous month, coming in at 17.03 million t, but analysts said underlying demand eased after taking into account the shorter month and week-long Lunar New year holiday in February.
"We have seen an even weaker coal demand in March," said Zhang Xiaojin, an analyst at Everbright Futures in Zhengzhou.
Along with subdued demand, China's coal needs have been curbed by tougher environmental checks from Beijing to tackle air pollution.
China will boost efforts this year to reduce pollution and cut the energy intensity of its economy, which is expected to grow at its lowest rate in 25 years.
The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said in its annual report in March that it would implement policies aimed at reducing coal consumption and controlling the number of energy-intensive projects in polluted regions.
"The rigid demand for coal is no longer there despite collapsing prices. Power plants no longer purchase extra coal, and traditional heavy consumers from the industrial sector are buying less amid economic slowdown," Zhang said.
Domestic prices at Qinhuangdao port SH-QHA-TRMCOAL have slipped 13.3% so far this year after losing 16% over the whole of 2014.
China has imposed tougher quality standards on imported coal as part of its efforts to prop up domestic prices and reduce oversupply on the market.
However, the country's energy regulator acknowledged in a policy document last month that foreign coal is still very competitive and imports are likely to remain at a relatively high level.
Edited from source by Joseph Green
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