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Chinese Oil Imports Dropped 11% In April

China’s crude oil imports in April fell by 11 percent, according to energy analytics firm OilX, to 10.41 million bpd.

While lower than March volumes, the April average was more than 5 percent higher than the April average for 2020, OilX also said, as quoted by EnergyVoice.

In March, crude oil imports into China surged to 11.69 million bpd ahead of the start of refinery maintenance season. While considerably higher than the year-ago figure, the March average was lower than the February figure, which stood at 11.73 million bpd.

The consequent decline as refiners filled up their storage tanks and prepared to begin maintenance operations was expected. In fact, even a further slowdown in imports is on the horizon, according to OilX and others.

Higher prices are one reason for the expected slowdown in imports as China has already stocked up on cheap crude and can wait for prices to moderate.

Another reason is Beijing’s recently struck massive investment deal with Tehran that many expect will lead to higher imports from the U.S. sanctioned OPEC member, even if the sanctions remain in place.

Not all agree about the slowdown in imports, however, or at least its length. Energy Voice this week quoted Fitch Solutions as saying it expected imports of crude to China to remain robust.

“The outlook for the remainder of the year for Chinese crude demand is bullish,” the ratings agency said. “2021 is expected to see a strong recovery in domestic refining activity and internal, external demand, resulting in an annual growth in crude imports of 11% after Covid-19 restrictions curtailed growth in both in 2020. That said, near-term upside momentum may be slowed in Q2 as maintenance season looms.” 

If prices continue to go higher, however, this may have a more durable effect on Chinese crude oil imports this year.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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