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Asian Importers Step Up Iranian Oil Purchases Before Waivers End

The biggest oil importers in Asia collectively bought 1.57 million bpd of oil from Iran in March, a 36-percent surge over February, as buyers rushed to use up the U.S. sanction waivers for Iranian oil purchases before they expire this week, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing government data and trade sources.

Asia’s top oil importers, who are also Iran’s biggest oil customers—China, India, Japan, and South Korea—saw their combined level of Iranian oil imports in March hit the highest amount in eight months, since July last year, the month before the U.S. slapped financial sanctions on Iran, followed by sanctions on Tehran’s oil industry in November.

Back in November, the U.S. granted sanction waivers to eight key Iranian oil buyers, including these four Asian customers, to continue importing oil at reduced volumes. Amid uncertainties whether they would get their waivers extended, the Asian importers hurried to buy and load Iranian oil for March, to have enough time to close transactions in case their waivers end.

The U.S. announced last week that it was ending all waivers for Iranian oil, which expire this week.

In March, China imported 541,134 bpd of Iranian oil, down by 25.5 percent on the year, according to the data Reuters has compiled. India’s imports were just 5.9 percent lower than last year’s imports in the same month, and stood at 405,000 bpd. Japan saw its Iranian oil imports surge by 48.8 percent on the year to 292,648 bpd, while South Korea’s imports fell by 10.6 percent to 334,387 bpd.

India’s oil imports from Iran increased by some 5 percent between March 2018 and March 2019 compared to the previous fiscal year through March 2018, because Indian refiners rushed to buy Iranian oil before the U.S. sanctions kicked in in November and hurried to wind up purchases ahead of the waiver expiring this week.

According to analysts, China is not expected to cut off its purchases of Iranian oil, while Iran could try selling more oil ‘under the sanctions radar’, Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB, said last week.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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