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Vietnam fears it may not seek coal supplies   2012-05-01 - TBKTSG

With five coal-run thermopower plants under construction, PetroVietnam alone would need 18 million tons of coal, of which 13 million tons would be imported. By 2020, Vietnam would need 48 million tons of coal imports a year.

The thorny problem

Indonesia is considering imposing export tariffs on coal and normal metal exports in an effort to restrict the export of raw materials, In the immediate time, the export tariff on coal would be 25 percent in 2012, which would be raised to 50 percent in 2013.

Together with Australia, Indonesia is one of the two biggest coal exporters in the world, which is the main supplier to Asian economies. Indonesia’s intention to impose heavy tax on coal exports would push the coal prices up, and lead to a stiffer race to obtain the right to buy coal. Vietnam, which has no advantages in the race, would meet even bigger difficulties in the future.

Currently, a lot of thermopower plants in Vietnam have been designed in a way to use the coal imports from Indonesia. If the Indonesian government imposes such heavy tariffs, the production costs of the plants would be very high, thus making the power plant projects fail completely.

In 2011, the Vietnam Coal and Mineral Resources Vinacoal imported 9000 tons of coal from Indonesia in a trial basis. Dr Nguyen Thanh Son from Vinacoal said this was a low quality coal, and importing this kind of coal would be detrimental to Vietnam in terms of the shipping fee.

Meanwhile, no one can say for sure if the supply is profuse enough. In 2011, Indonesia exported 250 million tons of coal. The amount was not enough to satisfy the additional demand of China and India. Australia exported 280 million tons of coal, but Japan alone demanded 200 million tons.

In the future, India plans to increase the coal imports to 300 million tons by 2016-2017, which is double the current level. China, which is consuming more than a half of the global coal output, would also have to seek more foreign supply sources to satisfy its bigger thirst.

As for Japan, the demand for coal would surely increase. After the trouble with Fukushima nuke plant in March 2011, the country has shut down many nuke power plants, while coal run thermopower plants would be the alternative.

The coal demand is forecast to increase by 4.46 percent per annum in the next decade, while Asia would see the growth of 7.03 percent. Meanwhile, the coal reserves have been decreasing, and the current resources would be enough to satisfy the demand by 2030 only.

As such, it is foreseeable that Vietnam would have to compete with the rivals more powerful in financial capability, such as China, Japan, India and South Korea to obtain the right to buy coal.

To date, all the things Vinacoal and PetroVietnam has done is to sign frame agreements with foreign coal suppliers. Meanwhile, it remains unclear about the supply volume and prices.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade is considering buying coal mines in foreign countries to ensure stable coal supplies for domestic power plants. The two supply sources Vietnam has thought of are Australia and Russia.

However, Son has warned that this proves to be an unfeasible plan. He said that in Australia, all the mines easy for exploitation have been bought by Japanese. They have also bought the stakes of railway companies and port development companies to more easily export coal. China, a powerful economy, also finds it difficult to exploit the coal resource, let alone Vietnam.

As for Russia, in order to have the exclusive right to exploit one mine with the reserves of 100 million tons, Vietnam would need at least 500 million dollars.

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