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26 Apr, 2020 12:36

China boosts oil imports from Russia, while slashing purchases from Saudi Arabia

China boosts oil imports from Russia, while slashing purchases from Saudi Arabia

Shipments of Russian crude oil to China increased more than 30 percent in March compared to a year earlier while Saudi imports of the commodity sank, Reuters reported, citing Chinese customs data.

As crumbling demand for crude and lack of storage space have been wreaking havoc on the oil market, China has been boosting oil exports in a move seen as taking advantage of record low oil prices. Covid-19 has severely cut the demand of one of the top global importers, but in March China purchased 9.68 million barrels per day (bpd), that is 4.5 percent more than it did during the same period in 2019. 

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Russia and Saudi Arabia supplied almost equal amounts of oil to the country last month, with shipments standing at 7.02 million tonnes (1.66 million bpd) and 7.21 million tonnes (1.7 million bpd) respectively. However, the data released by the General Administration of Customs shows that purchases from Riyadh fell 1.6 percent, while Russian crude imports rose 31 percent, according to Reuters calculations. 

The increased imports come as the Chinese economy is slowly getting back to normal, with most enterprises resuming operations after weeks-long quarantine. China became the first country to be hit by the deadly virus at the end of last year. Since then the outbreak shifted from Asia to Europe and the US, which has become the new epicenter of the epidemic. As of Sunday, over 939,000 people were infected in the US, while 53,934 were killed by the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The pandemic has sapped global demand for crude which might fall by around 30 percent, according to some gruesome estimates. As both onshore and offshore storage facilities have been running out of space, oil prices tumbled to record lows earlier this week, with WTI futures for May delivery entering negative territory. Prices for the international benchmark Brent also fell to multi-year lows.

In a bid to help the market rebound, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), as well as allied producers led by Russia, agreed on historic output cuts earlier this month. Starting in May, the signatories will have to slash production by 9.7 million barrels per day. However, many fear that the cuts came too late and will be not enough to ramp up the prices as demand will not rebound any time soon.

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