Asian imports of steam coal would rise to 460mt (million tonnes) this year from about 400mt last year, which would boost prices, a coal consultancy said yesterday.
Demand for coal far outstrips supply in countries such as India and China, which are largely reliant on coal to feed their power industries, and heightens their reliance on imports from countries such as South Africa, one of the top producers of the commodity.
Gerard McCloskey, head of the consultancy, told a coal exports conference in Cape Town most South African coal may be going to Asia this year.
"This year the feelings is that 75% of South African coal may be going to Asia...I don't know where the coal is going to come from to satisfy the market," he said.
India was the biggest single buyer of South African coal in 2009, accounting for 22% to 35% of the monthly exports throughout the year; and is hungry for more to feed its burgeoning power needs.
South Africa shipped only 61mt of coal last year, despite of having an export terminal capacity of 76mt, because of a lack of railway infrastructures to transport the resource to the port.
There are already inquiries from India and China for far more coal than is available for the first quarter of the year, making a scramble among buyers and an increase in prices inevitable, producers say.
China is the world's largest coal producer but became a net importer last year when the price of domestic coal outstripped that of imported coal.