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Japan to Extend Cuts in Iran Oil Imports, JX Chairman Says

Japan will import fewer than 160,000 barrels a day of oil from Iran next year to avoid sanctions aimed at the Middle Eastern country’s nuclear program, the head of Japan’s oil industry group said.

JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp., the country’s biggest refiner, will cut its purchases from the current contract of about 80,000 barrels a day, Yasushi Kimura, who serves as chairman for JX and the Petroleum Association of Japan, said at a press conference today.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in March exempted Japan from sanctions on banks doing business with Iran because of the Asian country’s steps to reduce imports from the Persian Gulf nation. The waiver was renewed in September for a second six-month term. Japan was the world’s biggest buyer of Iranian crude after China in the first half of 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Imports from Iran averaged 190,000 barrels a day from January to October, 40 percent less than the same period last year, and fell to 160,000 barrels a day in October, Kimura said.

“Maintaining that 160,000 barrels a day as a ceiling, refiners will look into reducing more, as JX cuts its own imports,” said Kimura, who declined to comment on how much purchases would be cut. “We will tackle this while keeping a close eye on the U.S.’s policy on Iran.”

Lost Supply

U.S. and European Union officials say Iran’s nuclear development is aimed at producing atomic weapons, while the government in Tehran says the project is for civilian purposes.

Japan should have little trouble finding sources of oil to replace lost supply from Iran, which provided 8.8 percent of its crude in 2011, according to Osamu Fujisawa, an independent energy economist in Tokyo who worked for Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K.

Fujisawa said he did not see the 160,000 barrels a day cited by Kimura as a fixed limit because the petroleum association has no control over its members’ imports.

“Maybe it will be 160,000 or 180,000, but the PAJ has no power to restrict imports of Iranian crude by private oil companies,” he said today by phone. “He’s just giving his personal forecast.”

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