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China Retains Crude Oil Import “Crown”

China remains the biggest importer of crude oil in the world, marginally ahead of the E.U. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Banchero Costa said that “China’s crude oil imports so far has been another positive period for crude oil trade, despite the high oil prices and risks of economic recession. In Jan-Sep 2023, global crude oil loadings went up +6.7% y-o-y to 1620.3 mln tonnes, excluding all cabotage trade, according to vessels tracking data from Refinitiv. This was well above the 1518.4 mln tonnes in Jan-Sep 2022 and the 1393.2 mln tonnes of Jan-Sep 2021, but also slightly above the 1564.9 mln t in the same period of 2020. Exports from the Arabian Gulf were down by -0.3% y-o-y to 651.3 mln t in Jan-Sep 2023, and accounted for 40.2% of global seaborne trade. Exports from Russia instead increased by +5.6% y-o-y to 173.3 mln tonnes, or 10.7% of global trade. From the USA, exports surged by +20.8% y-o-y to 144.3 mln t. From West Africa, exports increased by +1.3% y-o-y to 129.9 mln t. From South America, exports surged by +22.2% y-o-y to 116.2 mln tonnes in Jan-Sep 2023”.

Source: Banchero Costa

According to Banchero Costa, “in terms of demand, seaborne imports into the European Union (27) increased by +4.2% y-o-y to 352.7 mln t in Jan-Sep 2023, with the EU accounting for 21.7% of global seaborne crude oil imports. Imports to India increased by +2.0% y-o-y to 171.4 mln t, accounting for 10.5% of global trade. Mainland China is right now the largest importer of crude oil in the world, with a 23.7% share, once again marginally ahead of the European Union’s 21.7% share. In Jan-Dec 2022, China imported 439.2 mln tonnes of crude oil by sea, excluding cabotage, according to Refinitiv vessel tracking data. This represented a contraction of -2.5% y-o-y compared to the 450.2 mln tonnes imported in 2021. It was also -9.6% down from the alltime high of 485.9 mln tonnes imported in 2020, when the country took advantage of low crude prices and low demand from Europe”.

Source: Banchero Costa

The shipbroker added that “in the last two years, however, China’s annual crude oil imports slid, dropping for the first time in several years, as Beijing clamped down on refining sector to curb excess domestic fuel production while refiners drew down massive inventories, and Covid lockdowns led to a reduction in demand. In the first 9 month of 2023, imports into China rebounded strongly by +22.7% y-o-y to 384.6 mln tonnes, which was actually even higher than the record 370.4 mln t in the same period of 2020. About 31 percent of volumes discharged in China in Jan-Sep 2023 were carried in VLCCs, about 23 percent were carried in Suezmaxes, and about 32 percent in Aframaxes.

Main crude oil import terminals in China are: Ningbo/Zhoushan (51.5 mln tonnes in Jan-Sep 2023), Lanshan (37.8 mln t), Dongjiakou (37.2), Dalian (26.8), Qingdao (26.7), Zhanjiang (22.5), Tianjin (19.3), Quanzhou (18.5), Huizhou (17.0), Yantai (16.9), Cezi (12.7), Beilun (11.3), Caofeidian (10.7), Jieyang (10.6). In terms of sources of the shipments, the majority of China’s oil imports arrives from the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is the single largest exporter to China, accounting for 15.6% of volumes in Jan-Sep 2023. In Jan-Sep 2023, China imported 59.8 mln tonnes of crude oil from Saudi Arabia, up +5.1% y-o-y. In the same period, imports from Iraq to China increased by +13.5% yo-y to 41.6 mln t, and from the UAE by +30.0% y-o-y to 28.9 mln t. Volumes from Oman increased by +15.5% y-o-y to 29.8 mln t, whilst from Kuwait declined by -21.6% y-oy at 16.8 mln t. Direct shipments from Russia increased by +33.6% y-o-y to 41.5 mln t in Jan-Sep 2023. Nevertheless, Russia still accounts for less than 11 percent of China’s overall seaborne crude oil imports. Imports from ASEAN increased by +57.7% y-o-y to 37.6 mln t in Jan-Sep 2023, and from South America by 70.5% y-o-y to 32.1 mln t”, the shipbroker concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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