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China Cuts Iran Oil Imports Before Sanctions Waiver Extended

China cut its imports of Iranian crude in November before it won a renewed exemption from U.S. penalties on banks that process payments for the Islamic republic’s oil.

China, the world’s second-biggest crude consumer, purchased 1.76 million metric tons of petroleum from Iran, according to data released today by the General Administration of Customs. That’s equivalent to 429,000 barrels a day, down 6.3 percent from October and 31 percent lower than November 2011. The U.S. State Department on Dec. 7 extended exemptions for 180 days for China and eight other countries from measures related to sanctions against Iran, saying they had “continued to significantly reduce” their purchases of the Middle East nation’s oil.

The U.S. and the European Union are pressuring Iran to curtail its nuclear program, which they say is aimed at developing an atomic weapon. China, which is Iran’s biggest customer, cut crude imports from the country this year even after criticizing the restrictions. Purchases declined 23 percent to 19.4 million tons in the first 11 months from a year earlier, according to today’s data.

“Asian consumers of Iranian crude will need to show continuous efforts to limit crude purchases because the sanctions imposed by the U.S. will be renewed on a regular basis,” Victor Shum, the managing director at IHS Consulting in Singapore, said by telephone. “Obviously China has been doing so.”

Iran accounted for 7.5 percent of China’s 5.7 million barrels a day of net crude imports in November, compared with 8.2 percent in October, and was the country’s fourth-largest supplier, today’s data show.

Buying oil from the Islamic republic is “completely justified and legitimate,” Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said June 29 in Beijing.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jing Yang in Shanghai at jyang251@bloomberg.net; Paul Gordon in Hong Kong at pgordon6@bloomberg.net; Winnie Zhu in Singapore at wzhu4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alexander Kwiatkowski at akwiatkowsk2@bloomberg.net

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