Dispute may see coal prices rise

INDUSTRIAL disputes troubling the world's biggest coal exporter to the metals industry are expected to increase world prices for the product as demand catches up with supply.

The ongoing spat between BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance and the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union is mentioned only briefly in the latest industry report by the Federal Bureau of Resources Energy Economics.

However, Australia's mining and energy companies were expected to reap a record-breaking $209 billion in export earnings next financial year.

That windfall would be carried largely by the powerful iron ore and liquefied natural gas export industries, but Queensland's stocky coal sector remains resilient.

Researchers suggested contract prices for the metal-making coal - mined largely from Central Queensland - would increase by about $US15 per tonne to $US225 per tonne "partly as a result of reduced production associated with industrial action" involving BMA.

Even with that mild word of caution, the amount of metal-making coal exported would increase by 13%, with overall world value falling fractionally in the next financial year.

For thermal or heating coal, mined heavily in south Queensland, its exports would also increase by 13% and its worth will increase by 7%.

Japan, in particular, is expected to buy about one million extra tonnes of thermal coal to feed its power stations as it continues to grapple with concerns around nuclear power.

That coal may be sourced directly from Queensland.

BREE resource manager Alan Copeland said Australia's top trading partners - especially China and India - remained enthusiastic customers for our exports.

For Queensland, Mr Copeland said the state's mining industry was still a tale of poor weather and flooding.

"The volumes (being exported) are growing and that's important with an easing of prices," Mr Copeland said.

He said expansion of infrastructure and operations in Queensland also ensured the state was building its capacity to move more coal offshore.

He would not be drawn on whether there was an obvious impact from ongoing industrial action in Central Queensland except to emphasise that BMA was the world's largest exporter of metal-making coal, so there might be some consequences if production was hindered.

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