NEW DELHI - India's Steel Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said on Tuesday he was confident India's imports of coking coal from Russia would increase significantly in coming months, adding that steelmakers had started testing samples of Russian coal.
India long depended on Australia to meet most of its coking coal requirements but has progressively cut down on imports from the country in the last three years.
"Offtake of coal from Far East Russia can grow as the coking coal...becomes more attractive from the point of view of price, ease of availability, connectivity to the ports and sea transport," the Ministry of Steel quoted Pradhan as saying in a statement.
Shipments of coking coal from the United States and Canada rose to a sixth of all Indian imports of the fuel during the year ended March 2019, according to government data, while Australia's share fell to 71% from about 88% three years ago.
Interruptions to Australian supply in recent years, including a flood in a major coal producing region in February and a cyclone which tore into Queensland in 2017, raised concerns in India.
Overall coking coal imports to India, one of the world's fastest growing major economies, rose 10.3% to 51.84 million tonnes in 2018/19, with demand for the fuel expected to more than double over the next 10 years.
The country plans to increase annual crude steel production to 300 million tonnes by 2030 from 132 million tonnes currently, with steelmakers importing the bulk of their coal due to scarce domestic production.
An Indian coal ministry official told Reuters earlier this month that Russian companies were interested in India's plans to open up its coal mining industry to global miners for the first time, saying they were "getting involved aggressively".
India's top aluminium and copper producer Hindalco Industries HALC.NS has signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia's Far East Agency for investment in minerals such as copper and thermal coal, the steel ministry said in the statement.
(Reporting by Neha Dasgupta; Writing by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Kirsten Donovan) ((Sudarshan.Varadhan@thomsonreuters.com; +919810393152; Twitter: https://twitter.com/sudvaradhan @sudvaradhan;))