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METS businesses in the Mackay region are looking ahead to the new financial year with optimism as coal prices lift, according to Resource Industry Network general manager Dean Kirkwood.

Recent weeks have also seen a raft of announcements on company plans to restart mothballed coal operations or open greenfield sites, including plans for the Crinum underground near Emerald, Millennium-Mavis Downs at Moranbah and the Fairhill-Wilton project.

“The year did start with some uncertainty around the China trade situation and low prices, but demand has strengthened over time providing good news on the pricing front and it looks at this stage as if that is going to continue,” Mr Kirkwood said. 

“We see the commitment to new projects in the Bowen Basin as a very positive sign for our METS business but there are also positive developments in other minerals in Queensland that are benefiting our METS that have diversified outside coal.”

He also pointed to the findings of the Commodity Demand Outlook 2030 report released by the Minerals Council of Australia last week, highlighting how global demand trends would shape opportunities for Australia as a major potential supplier.

It found that demand for seaborne metallurgical coal would rise steadily, from 295 million tonnes in 2019 to 365Mt in 2030, while demand for thermal coal exports would increase 23.5 per cent, from 947Mt in 2019 to 1170Mt in 2030.

 “This has certainly reinforced the optimism that the regions METS businesses have for the future,” Mr Kirkwood said.

As reported in The Australian last week, the price of thermal coal has surged to a decade high, while Australian metallurgical coal has also increased to $US161 a tonne at the start of this month from just $US110 a tonne a month ago. 

The piece sparked comments from Bravus Mining and Resources, which is developing the 10Mtpa Carmichael thermal coal mine about 160km north-west of Clermont to supply the burgeoning Indian market.

“For years now we have been talking about the growing demand in Asia for thermal coal in order to provide safe, affordable and reliable power,” the company stated n social media.

“According to the United Nations, India’s population will grow by 287 million people between 2018 and 2050, and by 2025 one-fifth of the world’s working population will be India.

“That population growth means substantially more people who want affordable energy, education, technology, health care, employment and other commodities that ultimately provide for a better lifestyle.”

MineLife founding director Gavin Wendt said the Australian coal industry had been very good at finding alternative markets in the wake of China’s import bans, effectively helping future-proof its export trade.

The upturn in thermal coal prices was driven by factors including the general recovery in the Chinese economy (and elsewhere in Asia), as well as a hot summer there increasing power demand for services such as air-conditioning.

“When you put together China’s industrial consumption and consumer consumption, and combine that with rising demand throughout Asia, it has provided a very strong demand basis for higher prices,” Mr Wendt said.

And while China had turned to Indonesia for supply, in line with its Australian ban, heavy rainfall had impacted shipments from that country, he said.

Meanwhile the metallurgical coal market was performing robustly as China’s steel-making sector hummed along, he said.

While increased prices may prompt companies to press the go button on some new Australian coal projects, he said operators across the mining sector had learned the lessons of past booms and would be inclined to hold back from bringing mines online too quickly and causing a retreat in commodity prices.