Iranian oil exports to China surge unprecedently amid US sanctions
Iran's cheap oil prices have been attracting China, causing a surpass in trade values.
- An Iranian national flag flies over a refinery in Bandar Abbas, Iran. (Bloomberg)
Iranian oil purchases from China have reached record levels within recent months, surpassing a 2017 peak, according to tanker tracking data.
This significant increase comes as Tehran and world powers hold talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal aimed at lifting the heavy weight of US sanctions on Iranian oil exports. In recent weeks, the talks have intensified.
Iranian oil returning to the market will tighten global supplies and decrease the prices of crude oil, which have surpassed $114 a barrel after the start of the military operation.
According to estimates of three tanker trackers, Chinese imports have transcended 700,000 barrels a day, which is a record number compared to 623,000 barrels a day in 2017 - this was before Trump, the US president at the time, imposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports. One tracker even estimated 780,000 barrels per day between November and December.
It is noteworthy that mid-2021 saw a strategic agreement between Iran and China.
During Trump's presidency, the Republican figure took several anti-Sino measures including igniting a trade war by massively increasing tariffs over Chinese imports and sanctioning multiple Beijing officials.
So far, Biden's administration has not implemented sanctions on Chinese individuals or companies while negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal.
The surge in Chinese purchases would essentially mean that Indian and European refiners will have less supply if the sanctions on Iranian oil will be removed, according to traders, noting that cheaper Iranian oil will definitely crowd out rival supplies from Brazil and West Africa.
Beijing declined to go into details upon being requested for comments by Reuters; however, China reiterated that Beijing stands against Washington's long-arm jurisdiction, and requests that the US remove unilateral sanctions.
The US State Department expressed awareness of this situation: Its spokesperson said that “China is an important trading partner for Iran, so, of course, our discussions with China on how best to get a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA include discussions of sanctions enforcement."
The discounted Iranian prices have been attracting Chinese customers, particularly independent Chinese refiners.
An executive based in China told Reuters, "We're seeing more plants taking Iranian oil, because they are cheaper."
Iranian cargoes in January were transacted at $5 a barrel, which is below Brent's benchmark - they constitute a more attractive alternative to Brazil, which had its oil priced at $7 as per Brent.
Iranian crude oil exports in December increased significantly to over 1 million barrels per day, which is the highest level in three years.
"Iran's oil exports are mostly going to China, often through convoluted routes and transshipments, with small volumes going to Syria each month," said CEO of Petro-Logistics, Daniel Gerber.