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China’s coal imports from N. Korea return

ReutersBEIJING (Reuters) — China’s fuel exports to North Korea fell in August, along with iron ore imports from the isolated nation, as trade slowed after the United Nations’ latest sanctions, but coal shipments resumed after a five-month hiatus, customs data showed on Tuesday.

China imported 1.6 million tons of coal from North Korea, according to data from Beijing’s General Administration of Customs, the first since February, when Beijing banned purchases of the fuel from its northeast neighbor.

The release comes after data on Saturday showed China’s trade with North Korea jumped in August even after the U.N.’s latest sanctions targeted Pyongyang’s exports of coal, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood.

Asked to explain the unexpected appearance of North Korean coal in the data, a customs official said he would refer the matter to the foreign ministry. A spokesman for the foreign ministry at a daily briefing said it would refer the issue to customs.

Traders and industry experts said the shipments were likely stranded at port since Beijing’s sudden prohibition of coal purchases in mid-February, but then allowed into the country ahead of the latest round of penalties against North Korea.

On Aug. 14, China said it would allow any cargoes that were already at port to clear customs as usual before the U.N. sanctions came into force on Sept. 5.

An experienced trader who handles coal from North Korea said his 5,000-ton cargo was allowed through customs last month after being stuck at a Chinese port for six months.

He believes many or all of last month’s unexpected imports were cleared under similar circumstances. “My cargo sat at port for six months until customs sent a notice telling us they will let all North Korean cargoes that have been unloaded at port clear customs,” he said.

The volume of coal was similar to the monthly average for the six months before the Chinese government’s ban. Its value of about $140 million was in line with a jump in total imports from July. It was the equivalent of about 80 cargoes of the fuel, based on trader estimate for the average shipment size. September’s data, due for release on Oct. 23, may show imports continued into this month.Speech

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