Report reveals surge in Chinese oil imports

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Economic recovery and increased demand for fuel exports are seen as the major consumption drivers

China’s crude oil imports surged to their highest levels in almost three years last month as refineries have ramped up production to catch up with growing fuel export demand, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing customs data.

Oil imports jumped 22.5% in March to 52.3 million tons, or 12.3 million barrels per day (bpd), representing the largest volumes of crude shipments for any month since June 2020, the figures showed.

Industry experts attribute the surge in crude imports to a sharp increase in the country’s exports of refined fuels, which soared 35.1% to 5.5 million tons in March, from 4.1 million tons in the same period last year.

“Refined fuel exports will increase, as currently the margins on exported gasoline are quite positive,” said Xu Peng, a refined products analyst at China-based commodities consultancy JLC.

Discounts on Russian crude amid an economic recovery in China that is spurring domestic demand have also contributed to the rise in imports.

Overall oil imports in the first quarter reached 136.6 million tons, a 6.7% increase from the 127.9 million tons registered in the same period last year.

In its March report, consultancy group Wood Mackenzie projected that Chinese oil demand would rise by 1 million bpd this year in its base-case scenario, driving the expected 2.6-million-bpd growth in global oil consumption.

“Depending on its consumers’ appetite to spend and the ambition of government policy, China’s reopening could once again turn up the heat on prices across the energy and natural resources spectrum,” the report said.

In a high-growth scenario, China could see its oil demand jump by 1.4 million bpd on the year, according to the consultancy.

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