BEIJING: China’s daily crude imports from Iran in November more than doubled those in October to their second-highest point this year, customs data showed on Monday, bringing shipments for the year close to last year’s levels.
The jump means Iran’s biggest oil customer and trade partner has very little room to boost shipments from the Islamic Republic further. A breakthrough agreement last month between Tehran and world powers allows the OPEC member to keep exports at the current reduced levels of about 1 million barrels per day (bpd), less than half the pre-sanctions level.
The deal also exempts buyers of Iranian oil, most of whom are based in Asia, from continually reducing purchases to earn a six-monthly waiver granted by the United States from sanctions.
However, China’s imports for the first 11 months are down just 0.6 percent from a year ago, leaving it with little scope for importing more without the risk of breaching sanctions.
In contrast, Iran’s second-biggest customer India has a lot more room to buy more and still win the next waiver from US sanctions because of the steep cuts made in imports earlier in the year.
The US State Department extended a six-month Iranian sanctions’ waiver at the end of November to China, India, South Korea and other countries for reducing purchases of Iranian crude oil earlier this year.
China, Iran’s largest oil client, imported 538,513 barrels per day (bpd) of crude from the Islamic nation last month, up 25.9 percent versus the same month last year, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Monday.
The November imports more than double October’s 249,848 bpd, a 40-month low after one regular buyer skipped imports for maintenance.
For the first 11 months, China’s Iranian oil imports were down 0.6 percent year-on-year at 19.29 million tons, or 421,520 bpd, customs data showed.
Chinese oil officials estimated late last year that domestic refiners would cut their Iran shipments at least 5 percent this year from 21.92 million tons, or an average 438,450 bpd for 2012, putting its maximum target for 2013 at around 416,400 bpd.
But that target did not include imports by Dragon Aromatics, an independent petrochemicals firm that started taking in condensate, a very light crude oil, from Iran around the middle of the year to feed its newly started condensate splitter.
The firm, which has an annual import quota of four million tons of condensate, has brought in an average of 66,000 bpd of Iranian South Pars condensate in recent months, traders say.
Iran and six world powers clinched a deal in late November to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for initial sanctions relief, signaling the start of a game-changing rapprochement that would reduce the risk of a wider Middle East war.
China’s total crude imports in November rose 0.8 percent from a year earlier to 5.73 million bpd.