BEIJING, May 20 - China's imports of Australian coal in April rose to the highest level since July 2020, Reuters records and customs data showed on Monday, because of improving trade relations and tariff advantages.

The country imported 7.19 million metric tons of Australian coal last month, according to data from the General Administration of Customs. That represents a 25% increase from the same month of 2019, before a years-long unofficial ban on Australian coal imports.

Australian coal exports to China have been recovering since February 2023, when China ended the ban in place since 2020, after trade relations improved between the two countries.

Australian exporters have also benefited from a free trade agreement that allows Australian coal to enter China tariff-free.

China reinstated a 3%-6% import tariff at the beginning of the year on countries without an agreement, applying to Russian and Mongolian coal imports.

The country also increased coal imports from sanction-hit Russia and neighbouring Mongolia last month, the data showed, to make up for domestic production cuts.

Russian coal imports ticked up 5% year-on-year to 8.49 million tons, despite sanctions affecting major Russian coal traders. The increase came mostly from coking coal imports, which rose by 18%.

China's total coal imports increased 11% in April to 45.25 million tons as domestic production failed to meet demand.

Safety inspections have curbed production in the main coking coal producing hub of Shanxi, where output dipped by 18.9% in the first quarter of the year.

Imports from Mongolia, mostly coking coal, also helped fill the gap, rising by 33% last month to 7.2 million tons.

Indonesia, China's largest coal supplier, shipped 17.82 million metric tonnes in April, down 15% from a year earlier. (Reporting by Colleen Howe; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)