MELBOURNE (Reuters) - China stepped up purchases of Australian steelmaking coal in March after customs delays earlier this year, Australian government data showed on Tuesday, but exports of thermal coal to the world's biggest consumer continued to fall.
Chinese traders had cut back on purchases of both thermal and metallurgical coal from Australia in February due to lengthy quality checks on supplies from there that lasted as long as two months at some ports.
That came months after Australia banned China's telecoms giant Huawei Technologies from competing in a telecoms tender, raising questions about whether the developments were linked. China's foreign ministry denied any correlation.
Australia's hard coking coal exports to China rose by 42 percent in March from February, making it the second biggest customer for the commodity after India, data from Australia's statistics bureau showed. The bureau did not give actual volumes.
The total value of Australia's hard coking coal exports rebounded in March by 58 percent to A$1.066 billion ($748.6 million).
The data comes after numbers issued late last month by Chinese customs showed China's imports of Australian coking coal nearly doubled in March from a month earlier.
While Australia's total exports of thermal coal climbed by 9 percent due to bigger purchases by South Korea and Japan, thermal coal shipments to China continued to fall, the Australian data showed. Quantities were down 18 percent.
China is importing less thermal coal as it shores up its domestic market, hitting top supplier Australia the hardest.
China's state planner on Tuesday took a step to further consolidate its coal industry, saying it would ramp up closures of small coal mines to boost safety and reduce pollution.
($1 = 1.4239 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Joseph Radford)