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China’s crude oil imports dropped by 6% year-over-year in March


Chinese imports of crude oil fell in March by 6% compared to the same month last year as first-quarter crude imports were stable year-over-year amid high volumes of Russian crude flowing to China.

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China imported 49.05 million metric tons of crude oil last month, which is equal to around 11.55 million barrels per day (bpd), per data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs cited by Reuters.

While lower by 6.2% compared to the March 2023 volumes of over 12 million bpd – when China was recovering from the eased Covid-related restrictions – the imports last month were higher than the January-February average and contributed to a 0.7% increase in Chinese crude imports in January to March 2024.

Chinese crude oil imports jumped by 5.1% in January and February compared to the same two months last year, as fuel demand rose during the Lunar New Year holiday.

But the slight increase in Chinese crude imports in the first quarter shouldn’t be viewed as a sign that China’s inconsistent economic performance over the past year is over.

In fact, much of the increase in Chinese crude oil imports in recent weeks has been due to cheap abundant flows of Russian crude, which – hampered en route to India by the U.S. sanctions – has found a home in the world’s top crude oil importer, analysts say.

China was expected to import record-high oil volumes from Russia in March as it is mopping up cargoes shunned by India, tanker-tracking data from Kpler showed last month. China was expected to welcome in March as much as 1.7 million bpd of crude from Russia as refiners were on track to import record-high volumes of the Russian grade Sokol, from which India has been shying away recently.

“China’s Russian crude imports surged to an all-time high in March, masking the underlying sluggishness in overall demand,” Emma Li, senior market analyst at Vortexa, said last week.

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