The international market for coal has developed over the last 30 years to its present form. It remains relatively small compared with oil markets, and accounts for only about 16% of world coal production because, as with gas, coal is expensive to move, especially inland: and, to store. The world industry is still dominated by local production for local use, but local industry, performance is increasingly assessed against the performance standards required in the international market for coal and other energy commodities, notably gas.
The market is likely to continue to mature, with the present mix of small and large suppliers gradually being replaced by highly competitive large corporations. A key question, for which there can be no definitive answer today, will be whether companies will concentrate and specialise in coal only, or will have coal as part of a wider portfolio of interests. The demand side will also undergo fundamental change, as coal use stabilises or falls in Europe, and rises dramatically in Asia.
During the last 50 years the composition of key producing nations has changed, as seaborne coal trade has developed and a world market has emerged. The old industrial countries of Europe and North America, notable the UK, the US and Germany, have historically been the coal producers and consumers but this pattern has changed.
The Asia Pacific region, which includes the three coal producers Australia, China, Indonesia, overtook North America to become the main coal producing region in 1992 and has remained the leader since.
China, USA, India, Australia and Russia have emerged as major producers and Australia, Indonesia and Russia have been the leading exporters during the last 30 years.
The development in trade has been mainly seaborne with a declining amount of land trade in the last 30 years. Seaborne trade of both steam coal and coking coal is on the increase in the Pacific, but declining in the Atlantic due to reduced demand from industry and power production.