* April imports down 26.4 pct on year, up on month
* Jan-April imports down 38 pct
* H1 likely to see 30-40 pct fall - industry estimate
BEIJING, May 8 (Reuters) - China’s coal imports in April fell 26.4 percent year-on-year, extending a sharp scaleback in the first quarter, due to weak demand, plentiful domestic supplies and tighter environmental controls, customs data showed on Friday.
Imports by the world’s biggest coal consumer in the first four months were down nearly 38 percent over the same period a year earlier, according to data from the General Administration of Customs.
Industry experts expected that a 30-40 percent fall in imports could extend through the first half of the year.
“The big year-on-year drop suggests persistent weakness in coal demand at home, while the faltering economy will continue pressuring coal demand as those coal-consuming industries have remained sluggish,” Zhang Xiaojin, an analyst with Everbright Futures in Zhengzhou.
The preliminary import figure includes lower-grade lignite, a type of coal with lower heating value that is largely supplied by Indonesia.
April imports came in at 19.95 million tonnes, down from 27.11 million tonnes a year ago, although up 17 percent from March’s 17.03 million tonnes.
Despite government calls to restrict coal production, domestic supplies have been ample as medium and smaller mines keep up mining activities, pushing down prices at home SH-QHA-TRMCOAL and making imports from countries such as Australia and Indonesia less attractive.
In its detailed clean coal action plan 2015-2020, the country’s top energy agency called for expanding a ban on coal burning to include suburban areas as well as city centres to tackle air pollution.
The world’s top coal user has set a target to cut coal consumption by over 80 million tonnes by 2017 and more than 160 million tonnes by 2020.
Reporting by Chen Aizhu and Ruby Lian; Editing by Richard Pullin