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China Set To Cut U.S. Oil Imports As Trade War Heats Up

Chinese oil customers plan to reduce their intake of U.S. crude oil from September onwards to avoid a possible import tariff on American oil in China, due to the uncertain outcome of the current trade tensions, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing Chinese industry sources.

The heightened trade tension between the United States and China over the few past weeks resulted in China threatening to slap a 25-percent import tariff on crude oil and refined oil product imports from the U.S., if the U.S. imposes new tariffs on Chinese products, as President Donald Trump has said they will.

Chinese refiners, who usually order their U.S. oil cargoes three months in advance due to the distance for shipping the crude, have been cautious about booking American oil too far in advance—beyond September deliveries.

Chinese state-run giant Sinopec, Asia’s biggest refiner and China’s biggest U.S. oil customer, is keeping its typical volumes for July loadings, but can’t commit to bookings further out in time, a top trading executive at Sinopec told Reuters.

“Future purchases [from August-loading onwards] will depend on developments,” the executive noted.

China is America’s second-largest single oil buyer after Canada, EIA data shows. In two of the past six months for which U.S. export data is available, American exports to China exceeded the volume of U.S. exports to Canada—in October 2017 and in March 2018.

According to Sinopec sources who spoke to Reuters, China will not struggle to find alternatives to U.S. oil.

On the other hand, according to analysts at Wood Mackenzie, “the U.S. would find it hard to find an alternative market that is as big as China.”

Related: Why OPEC Won't Flood The Oil Market

China’s independent refiners have also been careful to book U.S. cargoes, although they are not the largest buyers and some of the U.S. crudes are not the best fit for the typical independent refinery.

China’s independent refiners—commonly known as teapots—don’t expect U.S. oil deliveries for the next several months, an S&P Global Platts survey showed on Thursday.

“The uncertainty generated from the China-U.S. trade war closes the door to the sector,” a Beijing-based crude oil trader told Platts.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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