Stalled US, Polish coal shipments force Europe to seek new sources

The combined effects of the coal miners' strike in the United States and the continuing political turmoil in Poland are beginning to be felt in Western Europe.

Spot prices are inching upward, the supply picture is deteriorating, and some European analysts are saying that if coal shipments from the US and Poland fail to return to normal levels by summer's end, the situation could become serious.

There is no panic. So far, the supply-demand picture has been kept manageable by a reduced need for coal by the recession-plagued steel industry and by a mild winter and ambitious stockpiling by consumers in anticipation of the United Mine Workers' walkout, which began on March 27.

But European coal importers are beginning to look elsewhere for supplies to replace the actual and potential shortfall left by sharp reductions in American and Polish shipments. They are looking mainly in Australia and South Africa

The US And Poland, which together accounted for more than half the coal traded last year, are the world's first-and third-largest coal exporters respectively. The US shipped 94 million tons abroad in 1980; Poland 32 million tons.

Hardest hit by extended cutbacks in Polish and American output and exports will be France and Denmark. France is Europe's largest coal importer, and Denmark, where nearly three-quarters of the electricity-generating stations are coal-powered, receives about one-half of its coal imports from Poland and produces no coal of its own. West Germany, Spain, and Italy also depend heavily on Polish coal, receiving more than one-quarter of their coal imports from that troubled country.

Energy experts meeting in Brussels last month at a NATO-sponsored symposium said that coal shipments from Poland to the West this year could be down by 60 percent from last year's levels.

Polish government officials have said that output this year could plummet to 135 million tons, down from 201 tons in 1979, an all-time high. Production in the first quarter of this year was only 41 million tons, leaving only 1.5 million tons for export. Shipments t o West Germany during the January-March period were down by 50 percent from annual levels in recent years.

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