China opens Beijing to direct gold imports

China opens Beijing to direct gold imports

Tanker passing through the Xingang Shiplock into the main harbour of Port of Tianjin, the largest port in Northern China and the main maritime gateway to Beijing.

China, believed to be hoarding gold to diversify away from US Treasuries, has begun allowing direct imports of the precious metal via Beijing, in a move believed to seek keeping its import levels under the radar, sources told Reuters Monday.

Until now, the nation’s imports of gold have come mainly via Hong Kong, and since the mainland doesn't publish its bullion trade data, H.K. figures have been used to estimate China’s import levels.

But the opening of a third import point after Shenzhen and Shanghai, according to Reuters, could threaten Hong Kong's pole position in China's gold trade, as the mainland can get more of the precious metal directly rather than through a route that discloses how much it is buying.

Between 2011 and 2013, Hong Kong exported 1,930 tons of gold to the mainland, which in turn imported 1,160 tons of gold from Hong Kong last year. But given that the mainland consumed only 1,066 tons of gold and its domestic gold production reached 428 tons, this leaves a gap of 522 tons unaccounted for.

China opens Beijing to direct gold imports

The World Gold Council believes the missing gold was most likely purchased by government agencies such as the central bank, while the remainder was used in financing operations.

Meanwhile the country's gold reserves are officially put at 1,054 tonnes — a number officials haven't updated since 2009.

Gold makes up little more than 1% of the country's $3.6 trillion in reserves compared to more than 70% for the United States, which holds 8,166 tonnes of gold in vaults.

China overtook India to become the world's top importer of gold bars, coins and jewellery last year with 2013 imports soaring to 1,065 tonnes, up from 807 tonnes the year before.

In addition to being the world’s biggest consumer of bullion, the country is also the world’s largest source of mined gold. Over the past decade, production has doubled from 217 tonnes to 437 tonnes.