U.S. coal mining companies are worried President Donald Trump’s intensifying trade dispute with China could hurt their booming export business, one of the ailing sector’s most important lifelines, according to industry players.
Beijing this month added coal and other energy products to a list of U.S. goods facing import tariffs in retaliation for Trump administration levies. The measure has already dampened Chinese demand for U.S.-mined coal, multiple U.S. and Chinese industry sources said.
For instance, trade sources said China National Building Material International, one of the biggest metallurgical coal importers in China, pulled back from supply talks with U.S. coal broker XCoal and miner Consol Energy shortly after Beijing’s announcement.
A source familiar with the matter said Consol had been in talks with China to supply up to 1 million tons per year of metallurgical coal but would not confirm whether the deal would be delayed.
Officials at XCoal declined to comment.
“We’re obviously watching it closely, particularly given what a bright spot exports have been for our industry of late,” said Ashley Burke, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, which represents U.S. mining companies.
“Anything that would chip away at the appetite for U.S. coal abroad would be of concern.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said U.S. coal exports to Asia doubled from 15.7 million tons in 2016 to 32.8 million tons in 2017. Exports to China totaled 3.2 million tons in 2017, up from zero in 2015 and 2016, according to the EIA.
The coal industry’s concerns mirror the unease spreading in U.S. farm country over unintended consequences of the Trump administration’s protectionist stance, which has roiled foreign market for American crops. The farm and coal industries are critical Trump supporters that the president and his Republican party are relying on to help them retain control of Congress in the mid-term elections in November.