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Singapore — China will offer tariff exemptions on several US imports, the China's Ministry of Finance said Tuesday, that includes US-origin metallurgical coal and thermal coal, with traders are saying the move could benefit the latter more than met coal.

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According to the statement, China will not levy its 301 countermeasures against imported goods from the US, and eligible companies can apply tariff exemptions from March 2, the ministry said in a statement on its website.

Currently, US coking coal is subjected to a total of 30.5% tariffs and duties. The tariff components include 3% import duty, followed by an imposition of 25% tariffs on July 6, 2018. This was then followed by an additional 5% tariffs imposed on September 1, 2019, which has been cut to 2.5% following China's tariff adjustment that took effect on February 14.

US sub-bituminous thermal coal is currently subjected to a total of 26% tariffs and duties.

Market participants said given that there are limited details available, it is hard to say how much percent of tariff cut will be granted to applicants.

One of the major US coal producer told S&P Global Platts that this offer "will make China a viable market for US suppliers who can endure the freight differential and offer competitively, but the majority of US coking coal exports are high-volatile coking coal, and China is not a regular importer of high-volatile coking coal given their vast domestic resources."

China imported 64.2 million mt of coking coal in 2018, of which only 3% of the imported volume was from US, according to China customs' statistics. In 2019, total Chinese imports of the US coking coal between January and November were 1.1 million mt, down 43% from the same period recorded for 2018, China Customs data showed.

China imported 281 million mt of thermal coal in 2018, of which only 500,000 mt, about 0.17% of the imported volume was from US, according to China and US customs' statistics. However, in 2019, total Chinese imports of the US thermal coal between January and August were 1.3 million mt, up 260% from the same period recorded for 2018, US Customs data showed.

More Chinese buyers and US thermal coal miners have started to explore the option of importing US thermal coal as tariffs targeting the US coal into China could be waived, market sources said.

Several thermal coal trading houses said they did not import US thermal coal lately due to high cost of importing.

"We could consider importing high-CV US thermal coal if coal price and freight rates became competitive without tariffs, it will be interesting to explore this option if the tariffs could be reduced," a Singapore-based trader said.

As high-cost coal producers in the US suffered due to high tariffs, some were forced to idle their mines due to oversupply, hence a trader said that more US coal could flow into Chinese market.

S&P Global Platts assessed 6,000 kcal/kg NAR New Orleans 3% sulfur at $43.50/mt FOB USGC Friday. US 6,900 kcal/kg NAR Baltimore 3% sulfur and US 6,000 kcal/kg NAR Hampton Roads 1% sulfur prices were assessed at $62.70/mt and $71.81/mt FOB US East Coast, respectively, on Friday.

S&P Global Platts assessed US Low Vol HCC at $136.00/mt FOB US East Coast Monday. High Vol A and High Vol B prices were assessed at $138.00/mt and $126.00/mt FOB US East Coast, respectively, on Monday.