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As nuclear talks make progress, Iran crude oil exports stay above 2020 rates in April

Published: Updated:

Iranian crude oil exports remain at elevated levels so far in April compared to last year, according to two assessments, adding to signs of a recovery in shipments as talks make progress on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.

Tehran’s oil exports have risen since late 2020, despite US sanctions toughened under US President Donald Trump. Joe Biden’s administration took office in January pledging to rejoin Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, which Trump had quit.

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The oil industry is closely watching the level of Iran’s exports, which could affect the balance on the world market if they rose rapidly. In the past other OPEC producers have cut back supply to cushion the impact of higher Iranian oil exports on prices.

Geneva-based Petro-Logistics told Reuters exports so far in April had eased month-on-month to around 500,000 barrels per day (bpd), but were high relative to 2020. The firm initially put March exports at less than 600,000 bpd.

“Exports have continued at these elevated levels longer than we expected,” said Petro-Logistics Chief Executive Daniel Gerber. “And with constructive talks occurring in Vienna, we may never see a return to the 2020 lows.”

Those talks between Tehran and the world powers, aimed at bringing Iran and the United States back into compliance with the nuclear deal, have been underway since early April and will resume next week based on progress achieved so far.

A source at another company that monitors Iranian shipments said exportsin the first two weeks of April looked to be just below 500,000 bpd, down from 600,000 bpd from March, but the figure could be revised.

“These export levels can come in very lumpy, and I would not draw any conclusion yet,” he said.

There is no definitive figure for Iranian exports.

Petro-Logistics and other firms assess them by tracking tanker shipments.

Tankers have satellite tracking but this can be switched off, and adjustments to schedules and the use of ship-to-ship transfers complicate the task.

A lifting of US sanctions would in theory allow Iran to boost crude exports back to 2.5 million bpd, a rate last seen in 2018 when Trump exited the nuclear deal. In some months of 2020, they fell to as little as 100,000 to 200,000 bpd.

China has been taking more Iranian crude in recent months, according to traders, analysts and tanker trackers. Iran has said documents are forged to hide the origin of its cargoes and get around the sanctions.

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