* China coal imports up 12.2 pct in March at 22.09 mln T
* First-quarter coal imports at 64.71 mln T, up 34 pct (Adds new details on North Korean imports)
BEIJING, April 13 (Reuters) - China did not import coal from North Korea in March, customs data showed, as it bids to comply with United Nations’ sanctions against Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes.
The data issued on Thursday did not give monthly imports by country, but China’s customs office gave a separate first-quarter volume for North Korea at 2.678 million tonnes, which is the same as its shipments for January-February.
In a news briefing, the General Administration of Customs said China has not imported North Korean coal since Beijing issued a ban on the imports on Feb. 18.
More than 2 million tonnes of North Korean coal did not clear customs before the import ban went into effect and are stranded at ports, two trading sources told Reuters this week.
“It will be up to the trading companies to deal with the cargos that have been shipped to China but did not arrive before the ban,” said Huang Songping, a spokesman for customs.
Reuters reported on Monday that China ordered trading companies to return coal shipments received from North Korea after the ban was implemented.
Coal imports from North Korea in the first quarter - without the March shipments - were half of what they were a year ago.
China’s total coal imports in March rose 12.2 percent from the same month last year, the customs data showed, reflecting strong consumption from power stations.
The year-on-year increase suggests a sustained appetite in China for lower-priced foreign coal amid a prolonged domestic coal price rally, which has been triggered by the government’s curbs on smog and overcapacity.
“The year-on-year increase in monthly coal imports is quite high and quite unexpected,” said Zhang Xiaojin, a coal analyst with Everbright Futures. “Demand for imported coal remains strong in April, but shipments could trend lower due to the Australian cyclone.”
The monthly imports, at 22.09 million tonnes, were up 24.9 percent from February, the data showed.
Coal imports for the first quarter totalled 64.71 million tonnes, up 34 percent from the same period a year ago. (Reporting by Meng Meng and Beijing Monitoring Desk; Editing by Chrsitian Schmollinger and Tom Hogue)