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China Poised to Import Record-High Crude Oil Volumes From Russia

China is expected to import record-high oil volumes from Russia in March as the world’s top crude importer is mopping up cargoes shunned by India, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing tanker-tracking data from Kpler.  

China is expected to welcome this month as much as 1.7 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude from Russia as refiners are on track to import record-high volumes of the Russian grade Sokol, from which India has been shying away recently.  

Chinese imports of Sokol are expected to hit a record high of 379,000 bpd in March, tripling from the February imports of this Russian grade, according to Kpler’s data.  

At the same time, China’s imports of the ESPO grade from Russia are expected to hit 882,000 bpd in March, which would be the highest ESPO import volumes in China since January 2023, per Kpler’s data and analysis cited by Bloomberg.

The tougher enforcement of the G7 sanctions and related payment issues have been holding up Indian purchases of some cargoes of Russian crude oil, with tankers previously headed to India turning back eastwards, tanker-tracking data monitored by Bloomberg showed early this year.

In recent weeks, signs have emerged that China is buying up Sokol cargoes that have been stranded for months without destination.

Stranded cargoes of the Sokol crude, previously headed to India but idled off South Korea and Singapore since the U.S. stepped up sanctions enforcement, have started to make their way to China, beginning to clear a backlog of more than 10 million barrels of the grade sitting on tankers at sea. 

China has increased purchases of Sokol in recent weeks and its independent refiners are expected to take several such shipments this month, traders have told Bloomberg, which also notes that tankers loaded with Sokol and idling offshore Singapore since December have started moving towards China’s shores.  

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By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on March 18 2024 said:
    It is inevitable that China will continue to be the world's largest single buyer of Russian crude oil well into the future. The motivations are:

    1- China's economy is roaring and is expected to grow at 5% in 2024 having grown at 5.5% in 2023.

    2- Chinese refiners are on track to import record-high volumes of the Russian grades as China is the world's biggest exporter of petroleum products.

    3- By buying more Russian crude even at the expense of its purchases from OPEC+, China is
    supporting its closes ally with whom it has a strategic alliance and also defying US and EU sanctions against Russia.

    4- Russia offers its main importing customers China and India a loyalty price discount estimated to be around $4 a barrel below international prices.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Glbal Energy Expert

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