China’s Jan. Iran crude imports back at pre-sanctions levels

China, Iran’s largest oil client, imported 564,536 barrels per day of crude last month

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China‘s daily crude imports from Iran rose 82 percent in January from a year earlier, customs data showed on Friday, back at levels before western sanctions were applied more than two years ago targeting Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.

The jump was partly linked to distortions in the data ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday that fell in the first week of February, as companies tend to book cargoes in advance.

It also was in line with data on Iran’s exports, which rose three months in a row to around 1.2 million bpd in January, according to sources who track tanker movements.

China, Iran’s largest oil client, imported 564,536 barrels per day (bpd) of crude last month, up 82 percent versus the same month last year, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Friday.

The January imports from Iran were 11.2 percent higher than December’s 507,707 bpd.

The U.S. State Department extended a six-month waiver on Iranian sanctions at the end of November to China, India, South Korea and other countries for reducing purchases of Iranian crude oil earlier last year.

An agreement in November between Tehran and world powers allows the OPEC member to keep exports at the current reduced levels of about 1 million bpd, less than half the pre-sanctions level.

The deal also exempts buyers of Iranian oil, most of whom are based in Asia, from continually reducing purchases to earn a six-monthly waiver granted by the United States from sanctions.

China’s daily Iranian crude oil imports fell 2.2 percent to 428,840 barrels per day in 2013, a smaller-than-expected drop than previously forecast due to imports of condensate by an independent firm.

For 2014, China may buy more Iranian oil as state-run trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp is negotiating a condensate contract that could raise imports to levels unseen since tough Western sanctions were imposed in 2012, Reuters has reported.

China’s overall crude oil imports rose 11.9 percent in January from a year earlier to a record 6.63 million bpd as companies restocked ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday despite tepid demand growth, official data have showed.