By Muyu Xu and Chen Aizhu
BEIJING/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China’s crude oil imports from top supplier Saudi Arabia rose nearly 47% in 2019, with December shipments from the kingdom flat to a year earlier, customs data showed on Friday.
The big annual boost in Saudi shipments followed a new marketing strategy by state-run Aramco, which signed at least two new supply pacts with private refiners in China that came into the market from late 2018. Previously, Saudi Aramco had only dealt with China’s state refiners in long-term contracts.
Shipments to China in 2019 from the world’s top oil exporter totaled a record 83.32 million tonnes, or 1.67 million barrels per day (bpd), according to data from General Administration of Customs. December shipments came in at 6.99 million tonnes.
Russia, China’s No. 2 supplier, shipped a record 77.64 million tonnes in 2019, about 1.55 million bpd, up some 9% from the previous year, the data showed. Demand from China’s independent refineries for ESPO crude – one of Russia’s main export grades – helped to push the number higher.
China’s imports from the United States, badly hit by the prolonged U.S.-Sino trade war, were nearly halved in 2019 to 6.35 million tonnes, with no December imports.
China is expected, however, to ramp up purchases of U.S oil in 2020 after pledging to buy at least $52.4 billion of U.S. energy products over the next two years as part of a Phase 1 deal to end a prolonged trade dispute.
Sharply higher imports of U.S. crude could see importers dial back orders of similar or pricier grades from places such as Brazil and West Africa.
China maintained some purchases of Iranian oil in 2019 despite U.S. government pressure to wipe out Tehran’s oil exports, with most of the oil likely going into government stockpiles, according to Refinitiv oil research.
December arrivals from Iran came in at around 405,000 tonnes, while annual volumes totaled 14.77 million tonnes, about half the imports of 2018, the customs data showed.
Direct shipments from Venezuela were nil for a third month in a row, as China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), Caracas’s top oil client, steered clear of lifting any oil from the South American exporter to avoid violating secondary U.S. sanctions.
Annual imports from Venezuela fell by nearly a third to 11.39 million tonnes, the customs data showed.
(Reporting by Muyu Xu in Beijing and Chen Aizhu in Singapore; Editing by Tom Hogue)