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India surpasses China as Iran’s top oil client

FILE - In this Monday, July 19, 2010 file photo, a part of the South Pars gas field facility is seen on the northern coast of Persian Gulf, in Assalouyeh, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

GENEVA: India has vaulted to the top of the list of Iran’s oil customers, overtaking China, in a first-quarter buying surge ahead of tighter sanctions against Tehran this summer, data published by a leading industry consultant showed.

Direct imports to India from Iran were 433,000 barrels per day in the first quarter, compared with 256,000 barrels per day to China, according to data compiled by Geneva’s Petrologistics and seen by Reuters via an industry source.

The Indian import figure was up by around 23 percent from the 351,0000 bpd imported over the same period of 2011 and significantly above its 2011 average of 326,000 bpd.

Iran, like many oil exporters, does not publish its own oil sales data on a timely basis. The Petrologistics figures, however, reinforce indications that India has stepped up imports, while business has slowed between Tehran and Beijing over payment terms.

“The first quarter was likely the exception to the rule ... China took a strong stance on negotiations, but its imports will clearly rise again as it takes new term contracts,” said David Wech, an analyst at JBC Energy.

Iran’s oil exports have fallen this year due to sanctions aimed at slowing Tehran’s nuclear program.

India is raising its Iranian imports ahead of tighter sanctions this summer, when payments, insurance and supplies are expected to be more uncertain, analysts have said.

Iran traditionally sells most of its 2.2 million bpd of oil exports in Asia, where China, India, Japan and South Korea are the four biggest buyers.

Industry sources said Iran’s crude oil exports fell by around 300,000 bpd to 1.9 million bpd in March, with customers in Europe making deep cuts ahead of an EU embargo due to be implemented on July 1.

Customs data showed that China’s imports from Iran for February were down by 40.3 percent from the same period in 2011.

This trend was confirmed by the Petrologistics data, which showed that imports were down 39.4 percent in the first quarter versus a year ago.

“China ditched some term contracts due to what they perceived as unfavorable terms and also as a bargaining ploy on prices,” said a crude oil trader.

India, openly disdainful of international sanctions to pressure Tehran, has been left off a list of nations given a United States waiver from the measures, but the government is privately pushing refiners for substantial cuts in imports from Iran.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 13, 2012, on page 6.

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