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Colombian May thermal coal exports up 32.3%: DANE

Highlights

May shipments increase but year-to-date volume coal exports are off 15.2% from last year.

El Cerrejon, the nation's largest open-pit mine, asks for tax relief, pleading cash flow problems.

Colombia's coal industry staggering from price decline of nearly half since January.

Bogota, Colombia — Colombia exported a total of 9.336 million mt of coal during May, a 32.3% increase from the 7.055 million mt shipped abroad in May of last year and a 32.1% positive jump from the 7.066 million mt sold overseas in April, according to data available Thursday on the website of the government agency that tracks foreign trade, DANE.

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The government also reported that it collected a total of $738.89 million for its coal sales abroad in May, a 30% increase from the $568.36 million billed in May of 2018, and a 21.7% improvement from the $607.26 million in coal export receipts in April.

But the Colombian Mining Association, known by its Spanish initials ACM, has warned that the industry faces competitive pressures in addition to the havoc wrought by the recent decline in global coal prices caused partly by global-warming concerns. The group, the largest mining trade guild in Colombia, said the more telling statistic from DANE is the year-to-date total for volume exports, which is off 15.2 from the same period last year.

From January through May, Colombia exported 33.834 million mt of coal, down from 39.892 million mt over the same five-month period in 2018. Export receipts for the period totaled $2.877 billion, down 12.4% from the $3.282 billion collected over the year ago period.

Colombia, which ranks among the top half dozen coal exporters in the world, is suffering from relatively onerous set of legal restrictions and issues, particularly environmental rules, as well as territorial claims from displaced citizens and requirements that compel mining firms to contribute to community development, according to a recent ACM statement.

According to a recent survey that compared investment climates in several leading mining countries, Colombia's attractiveness ranks as "medium" and behind Latin American competitors Chile and especially Peru, which according to the ACM statement, is the world's second most attractive country for mining investment. Colombia ranks 48th.

Restrictions could soon become tougher for miners here, if the biofuels industry succeeds in persuading the government to end the exemption it currently extends to miners from strict carbon emission laws that require all other motorists to tank up with gasoline and diesel fuels that include up to 10% ethanol or biodiesel. Heavy vehicles in Colombia's mines are permitted to use dirtier fuels.

Earlier this week, Guillermo Fonseca, president of El Cerrejon, the country's biggest open pit coal miner, made a public plea for tax relief from the Colombian government, saying low global prices , which have fallen nearly by half since the start of the year, added to operational restrictions, had hurt the company's cash flow to the point it is struggling to make necessary investments in operations to keep the giant mine working.

El Cerrejon, which is located in northern Guajira province near the Venezuelan border, is owned by Glencore (33%), BHP (33%) aand Anglo American PLC (33%).

-- Chris Kraul, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Derek Sands, newsdesk@spglobal.com