In 2020, US coal exports declined to 69 million net tons, a 26 percent decrease from 93 million nt in 2019, according to a report from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Steam coal exports, which accounted for 40 percent of the total, declined by more than one-third, dropping 34 percent from the previous year to 27 million nt. Metallurgical coal had a smaller, but still significant, decrease of 20 percent. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed global demand for coal, and some US coal mines were idled for extended periods to slow the spread of the virus. Coal exports decreased significantly in April 2020 as the United States and countries around the world responded to the pandemic.
As US exports of both coal types decreased, more of the exports went to fewer destinations in 2020. In 2020, the top five export destination countries for US steam coal accounted for 73 percent of the total, which is up from the previous four-year average of 54 percent. The market for US metallurgical coal saw a similar, although less significant, consolidation as the top five destination countries consumed 53 percent of total exports, which is up from the four-year average of 48 percent.
Four of the top 10 US coal export destinations—Brazil, Turkey, the Dominican Republic, and China—increased their imports of US coal in 2020. Exports to the Dominican Republic increased by 1.3 million nt, more than double its 2019 US coal imports and the largest increase of all export destinations.
US coal exports to Japan decreased by 45 percent and to the Netherlands by 43 percent. The Netherlands serves as the primary transshipment hub for the European Union (EU), importing coal and then sending it to other EU countries.
In 2020, US coal production decreased by 24 percent (166 million nt) from 2019 to 539 million nt. The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the global downturn in coal demand, which had already been declining. As a share of coal production, coal exports represented 13 percent of total production in 2020, unchanged from the previous year.