China Imports of Iranian Crude Rebound to Highest in Six Months

China’s imports of crude from Iran rebounded to the highest level in six months in December after the U.S. renewed an exemption from penalties on banks that process payments for the Persian Gulf nation’s oil.

China, the world’s second-biggest crude consumer, bought 2.52 million metric tons of oil from Iran last month, according to figures from the General Administration of Customs today. That’s up 43 percent from November, when purchases slipped 9.3 percent. Shipments averaged 596,000 barrels a day, the most since June, and advanced 3.6 percent from December 2011, the data showed.

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. China’s total crude imports last year from the Islamic republic, its third-biggest supplier, slid 21 percent to 22 million tons, the customs data showed.

“The annual decrease in imports was within expectations and safely in the range of 20 percent to 30 percent in crude cuts required by the U.S.,” Li Li, an oil analyst with Shanghai-based commodity researcher C1 Energy, said by phone. “China will continue to import limited crude from Iran just to get around the U.S. as a political compromise.”

China’s monthly purchases from Iran may be 1.7 million tons to 2 million tons in the first half of this year, similar to the average for 2012, Li said. 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.

Saudi Arabia continued to rank as China’s largest crude supplier last year, providing 53.9 million tons, up 7.3 percent from 2011, the customs report showed. The Middle East nation accounted for 19.9 percent of China’s imports, compared with 19.8 percent a year earlier.

— With assistance by Sarah Chen, and Jing Yang

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