Coal is on track to become Australia’s largest export.

The Minerals Council says coal should generate $58.1 billion for the 2018-19 financial year, overtaking iron ore, which is forecast to bring in $57.7 billion in 2018-19.

Australia’s high-grade metallurgical coal highly sought after for steel making, while high-energy, low-ash coal is becoming popular in Asia’s high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal-fired power plants.

By 2023, Asia’s demand for thermal coal imports should rise by 400Mt, the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) says.

The mining lobby said the rise in coal exports will be underpinned by three factors: high productivity of Australian coal companies, the nation’s proximity to major markets, and strong regional economic and population growth.

“Coal is a cornerstone Australian industry built on the efforts of hard-working Australians which supports regional jobs and communities. It has a strong future which can meet the requirements of a modern economy,” MCA executive director, coal, Greg Evans said.

“Governments across Australia need to ensure that sensible policy settings are in place to secure the economic, jobs and social dividend from the strong demand for coal in our region.”

The lobby is also keen to spruik the local benefits, with coal providing 75 per cent of generation in the National Electricity Market, over 51,000 direct jobs and $6 billion in state royalties each year.