China Energy Investment Corp has placed an order to import Australian coal, marking one of the first deals since Beijing eased an unofficial ban on the commodity in 2020, according to Reuters.

The move comes almost three weeks after China’s state planner allowed three central government-backed utilities and its top steel maker to resume Australian coal imports.

On 6 January, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) called upon China Datang Corp, China Huaneng Group, China Energy Investment Corp and China Baowu Steel Group to discuss resuming imports as China’s easing of Covid-19 restrictions boosts coal demand.

Sources close to the matter have said that China Energy’s cargo is likely to be loaded before the end of this month, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

China Energy did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment. The company has so far only ordered thermal coal — typically used in power plants, two of the sources said.

Australia was China’s second-largest coal supplier and exported almost a quarter of its coal to China in 2019 before the unofficial ban, which was imposed due to diplomatic ties breaking down in 2020.

The ban caused coal Australian coal exports to China to fall to almost nothing in 2021 and 2022, Reuters reported.

Coal cargoes shipped from Australia to China, which had accounted for nearly a quarter of all Australian coal supplies in 2019, fell to nearly zero in 2021 and 2022.

Australia responded to the Chinese ban by exporting coal to Japan, India and Europe and is expected to keep doing so, though the ban has been lifted.