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China imported 10.08 million bpd of crude oil last month, up 11 percent on the year, customs data showed as cited by S&P Global Platts. This was the first time since April that imports topped 10 million barrels.
On a monthly basis, however, the September imports were up by a modest 1 percent.
Over the first nine months of the year, China’s average daily oil imports stood at 9.91 million barrels, S&P Global Platts also reported, up by a solid 9.7 percent from a year earlier.
Exports, for their part, surged, but only in the oil product department. Chinese refiners are already producing more fuels than the domestic market needs and the resulting surge in exports is depressing refiners’ margins both at home and in neighboring countries. Nevertheless, refiners have chosen to make the best of their import quotas and produce all the fuels they can under them.
Oil product exports from China rose 39.6 percent, while oil product imports fell by 26.5 percent from August.
Earlier this month shipping data revealed that China had substantially increased its oil imports from ship-to-ship transfers: a tactic that Iran uses to circumvent U.S. sanctions and also a method that Venezuela may be using to get its crude to market.
Related: Iran's 3-Part Plan To Outsmart Sanctions
In September, according to Bloomberg calculations, China imported 910,000 tons of crude from ship-to-ship transfers, which was three times more than the same kind of imports in August.
Washington has not been turning a blind eye to that. At the end of last month, Washington announced sanctions on several Chinese tanker operators on allegations that they had violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and had shipped Iranian crude. The move sent shipping rates soaring.
Also in September, China slapped import tariffs on U.S. crude after months of uncertainty whether it would go that far. As a result, shipments of U.S. crude to China naturally fell and will likely continue to fall unless the two sides somehow agree a trade deal.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.