Prospects for Long-Term U.S. Steam Coal Exports to European and Pacific Rim Markets

NSIAD-83-8: Published: Aug 4, 1983. Publicly Released: Aug 15, 1983.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the competitiveness and long-term prospects for U.S. steam coal exports to European and Pacific Rim markets which use steam coal for electricity generation and industrial heating.

GAO found that, although U.S. steam coal exports are expected to increase in volume over the long term, they probably will remain a small portion of total U.S. coal production. The recent U.S. steam coal export boom, which peaked in mid-1982, was largely attributable to supply disruptions in other major coal exporting countries. U.S. exports began to decline as Poland and Australia entered the market after extended strikes. The United States is the high-cost supplier of steam coal in both regions. South Africa and Australia have much lower production and delivery costs and could underprice U.S. exporters by significant margins, but choose to price their coal only marginally below U.S. prices to maximize their profits. Poland, a centrally planned economy, bases the prices of its coal exports on its need to obtain foreign hard currency. The U.S. share of international steam coal markets, therefore, depends largely upon the market strategies of its major competitors: South Africa and Poland in Europe and Australia in the Pacific. The cost of producing and delivering the coal to the foreign market is the primary barrier to increasing U.S. coal exports. Production, port, and rail transportation capacities appear adequate to handle current or projected export levels.

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