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China escalates imports of crude from United States

By Zheng Xin | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-20 08:07

Analysts said on Tuesday they believe a dramatic surge in imports of US petroleum products into China in the current year is a win-win for the world's biggest trading partners.

China imported an average of 100,000 barrels of crude per day from the United States during the first five months of 2017, 10 times the level for the same period last year, according to official customs data.

The General Administration of Customs figures, released earlier this month, indicate the upward trend is also picking up speed, with imports surging to more than 180,000 barrels per day in April and May.

"China has long depended on fuel imports and the cheaper energy price, in addition to the massive amount of US oil, has definitely contributed to the increase in imports," said Li Li, energy research director at ICIS China, a consulting company that provides analysis of the energy market here.

"The US' increasing share of China's energy imports will also ensure the country's energy security, as China has been exploring different crude oil import channels," Li added.

US Census Bureau data on international trade show that the combined value of US crude oil, gas and refined petroleum exported to China in the first five months of 2017 totaled over $2.76 billion.

China purchased $1.6 billion of US crude, representing 21 percent of US global crude oil exports from January through to May.

The US lifted a 40-year old ban on oil exports two years ago, as its production levels rose to their highest in decades, boosted by surging new shale oil and gas output.

Wang Lu, an Asia-Pacific oil and gas analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said US oil exports could also lower OPEC's global market share of oil production and could undermine the producer group's willingness to comply with their agreed output reductions.

China became the biggest purchase of US crude oil in February, overtaking Canada, against the backdrop of OPEC's scaling back of its production.

"While the output-cut deal has been extended to March 2018, whether OPEC will comply with that undertaking is uncertain," Wang said. Crude oil exports from US to China surged to 759,000 metric tons in May, and its market share as a percentage of China's total oil imports rose to 2 percent from 0.1 percent a year ago, while that of the Middle East fell to 41.6 percent from 46.7 percent, Wang said.

China's biggest oil and gas producer, China National Petroleum Corp, said earlier it would import more crude oil and natural gas from the US, while also considering involvement in the country's growing liquefied natural gas export industry.

CNPC chairman Wang Yilin said his company was setting its sights on having a growing reliance on US energy imports, on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.

"The US has very rich oil and gas resources, and as China pursues a diversification of its crude supplies the US will of course be one of the sources," he said.

"We will (also) consider exploring cooperation in areas such as jointly developing liquefied natural gas facilities and gas transport," he added.

Xiamen University energy expert Lin Boqiang, who has advised Beijing on oil policy, said that China should consider buying oil from places other than the Middle East.

The glut of US crude also made it cheaper than oil from the Middle East.

"If there's an opportunity to buy oil from somewhere else, we should," he said.

"The precondition is that it must be economical."

US crude prices were currently relatively low, while the move to increase oil exports is also in accordance with Washington's target to reduce the trade deficit between China and the US, Lin said.

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry called for more energy cooperation with China during a visit to Beijing in June.

Expanding crude exports also means more jobs in the US, said Ray Perryman, president of the consulting firm Perryman Group. He was quoted by the New York Times estimating that the expanded crude exports could add over 480,000 jobs nationally over the next couple of decades, nearly 60 percent of which will be in Texas, even if oil prices remain moderate to low.

Xiamen University's Lin said the US currently accounts for a small percentage of China's oil imports, with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Angola still its top crude suppliers.

However, as China keeps seeking to diversify its oil and gas suppliers-with its own oil fields becoming less productive and geopolitical worries posing a threat to disrupt supplies from the Middle East-he was optimistic about future US-China oil cooperation.

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