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Argus: Vietnam's March coal imports rise but outlook uncertain

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Coal,

Argus Media has reported that Vietnam's coal imports increased in March from a year earlier, partly because some cargoes destined for India were resold to Vietnamese buyers. But there is uncertainty surrounding Vietnam's future demand amid a lack of clarity on whether its COVID-19 restrictions, which are set to expire today, will be extended.

Vietnam imported 4.45 million t of coal in March 2020 – up by 17.2% from March 2019, according to provisional Vietnamese customs data. March's receipts were also higher compared with 3.34 million t in February 2020.

The data does not differentiate between coking coal and thermal coal.

Indonesian coal accounted for the bulk of March’s imports, with receipts increasing by 650 140 t from a year earlier to approximately 2.08 million t. Vietnam's imports from Australia rose by 539 095 t to 1.56 million t, and the country also imported 410 052 t from Russia – down from 720 860 t from a year earlier.

The increase in imports in March was partially due to cargoes bound for India being resold and diverted to Vietnamese buyers. The lockdown in India, which first began on 25 March, has resulted in port disruptions and closures.

India's lockdown has now been extended until 3 May, which has prompted Indonesian buyers to divert cargoes to China and Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, as Indian buyers sought deferments as well as the cancellation of orders. This helped to support Vietnam's imports, even as the country announced a partial lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Vietnam's social distancing curbs, which started on 1 April, could also weigh on electricity generation as well as consumption. But power output rose to 54 TWh in the 1Q20, up from 50.3 TWh in 1Q19, on the back of new capacity, according to the country's general statistics office.

Vietnam's GDP grew by 3.82% during January to March this year, the lowest in recent years. But Hanoi sees the economy being on a fundamentally strong footing, despite the coronavirus-related disruptions, as the country builds 5 year socio-economic development plan for 2021 - 2025, targeting an average growth rate of 7%/y.

State-owned utility EVN has set a target to increase generated and purchased power output this year by 8.9% compared with 2019 to 251.62 TWh. The company's total power supplies, including its own generation and power that it purchased, reached 231.1 TWh in 2019, an increase of 8.85% from 2018.

Vietnam commissioned 1.2 GW of new coal-fired generation capacity in 2019, which brought its total to 19.2 GW. It is set to bring 2.1 GW online this year and has 3.7 GW of capacity under construction that is scheduled to come online in 2021, as well as another 3.2 GW under construction for launch in 2022. A further 870 MW is planned to come on line in 2022, although construction has not started.

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