China Crude Imports From Iran Climb to Highest This Year

China’s imports of crude from Iran rose to the highest level this year even as Western nations stepped up pressure to cut purchases of the commodity from the Persian Gulf nation.

China, the world’s second-biggest crude consumer, bought 2.22 million tons of oil from Iran in May, according to a report e-mailed by the Beijing-based General Administration of Customs today. That’s equivalent to more than 524,000 barrels a day, up 35 percent from the 390,000 barrels a day purchased in April. It imported 2.27 million tons, or about 537,000 barrels a day, in May last year.

China’s crude shipments from Iran have rebounded since the two countries resolved a payment dispute in the first quarter. The U.S. has excluded China from a list of nations granted exemptions from sanctions because of their attempts to reduce purchases from the Islamic Republic. The European Union plans an embargo on Iranian crude starting July 1 as part of Western efforts to curb the Middle East nation’s nuclear program.

“China’s importing oil from Iran is fair and reasonable and does not hurt the interests of the international community or violate relevant Security Council resolutions,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing today in Beijing.

Sanctions Pressure

British, Chinese, French, German, Russian and U.S. diplomats ended talks in Moscow with their Iranian counterparts on June 19 without a deal to lift the EU embargo. Technical experts from the countries will meet in Istanbul on July 3 for more discussions, according to Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief. “There is a long way to go” before a resolution, she said.

The U.S. sanctions target banks globally that process payments for Iranian oil, while the EU restrictions include a ban on insurers providing cover for tankers carrying the Persian Gulf nation’s crude. About 95 percent of the world’s tankers are insured by the 13 members of the London-based International Group of P&I Clubs.

Japan’s parliament passed a bill yesterday to provide $7.6 billion of sovereign insurance to its country’s tanker owners that carry Iranian oil. Iran’s insurance companies are ready to offer coverage to ships transporting its crude, Fars reported June 19, citing Mohammad Karimi, the president of Central Insurance of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

China paid about $120 for each barrel of crude it bought from Iran last month, down from about $122 in April, the customs data show. Total crude imports cost an average $120 a barrel compared with $123 the prior month.

Iran was China’s third-largest crude supplier last month, according to the customs report. Saudi Arabia was the biggest at 4.39 million tons, followed by Angola at 3.93 million. Russia was fourth with 1.73 million tons.

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