China is now the single largest imported of crude oil globally. As such, the shift towards more Russian oil imports is a major change in the market. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Banchero Costa said that “the start of 2023 has been a positive period for crude oil trade, despite the high oil prices and mounting risks of economic recession. In Jan-Apt 2023, global crude oil loadings went up +9.4% y-o-y to 717.8 mln tonnes, excluding all cabotage trade, according to vessels tracking data from Refinitiv. This was well above the 656.0 mln tonnes in Jan-Apr 2022 and the 612.7 mln tonnes of Jan-Apr 2021, but also slightly above the 716.6 mln tonnes in the same period of 2020.
According to the shipbroker “exports from the Arabian Gulf were up +3.8% y-o-y to 290.5 mln t in JanApr 2023, and accounted for 40.5% of global seaborne crude oil trade. Exports from Russia have also increased by +7.2% y-o-y to 78.8 mln tonnes, or 11.0% of global trade. From the USA, exports surged by +24.5% y-o-y in 1Q23 to 63.0 mln t. From West Africa, exports declined by -1.3% y-o-y to 56.3 mln t. From South America, exports surged by +20.8% y-o-y to 48.6 mln tonnes in Jan-Apr 2023. In terms of demand, seaborne imports into the European Union (27) increased by +11.6% y-o-y to 158.6 mln t in Jan-Apr 2023, with the EU accounting for 22.1% of global seaborne crude oil imports. Imports to India increased by +5.6% y-o-y to 79.4 mln t, accounting for 11.0% of global trade”.
Banchero Costa noted that “mainland China is right now the largest importer of crude oil in the world, with a 22.4% share, once again marginally ahead of the European Union’s 22.1% share. In Jan-Dec 2022, China imported 439.2 mln tonnes of crude oil by sea, excluding cabotage, according to Refinitiv vessel tracking data. This represented a contraction of -2.5% y-o-y compared to the 450.2 mln tonnes imported in 2021. It was also -9.6% down from the alltime high of 485.9 mln tonnes imported in 2020, when the country took advantage of low crude prices and low demand from Europe. In the last two years, however, China’s annual crude oil imports slid, dropping for the first time in several years, as Beijing clamped down on refining sector to curb excess domestic fuel production while refiners drew down massive inventories, and Covid lockdowns led to a reduction in demand. In the first 4 month of 2023, imports into China rebounded strongly by +12.3% y-o-y to 161.4 mln tonnes, which was actually even higher than the record 159.6 mln tonnes in the same period of 2020”.
“About 81 percent of volumes discharged in China in 2022 were carried in VLCCs, about 7 percent were carried in Suezmaxes, and about 11 percent in Aframaxes. Main crude oil import terminals in China are: Ningbo/Zhoushan (65.8 mln tonnes in 2022), Qingdao (41.4 mln t), Lanshan (42.1), Dalian (38.3), Zhanjiang (29.1), Dongjiakou (29.8), Quanzhou (22.5), Huizhou (24.3), Tianjin (23.2), Yantai (20.1), Beilun (16.4), Caofeidian (13.9), Shuidong (13.1), Cezi (12.2), Yangpu (9.6), Bayuquan (7.6), Fangcheng (2.3). In terms of sources of the shipments, the majority of China’s oil imports arrivesfrom the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is the single largest exporter to China, accounting for 18.0% of volumes in Jan-Dec 2022. In 2022, China imported 79.0 mln tonnes of crude oil from Saudi Arabia, down -4.3% y-o-y. However, in the same period, imports from Iraq to China increased by +2.8% y-o-y to 51.2 mln t, and from the UAE by +27.4% y-o-y to 34.1 mln t. Volumes from Oman increased slightly by +0.8% y-o-y to 35.9 mln t, whilst from Kuwait were flat +0.0% y-o-y at 29.0 mln t. From Russia volumes increased by +30.7% y-o-y to 42.2 mln t in 2022. Nevertheless, Russia accounts for less than 10 percent of China’s overallseaborne crude oil imports. Imports from West Africa shrunk by -18.2% y-o-y to 47.0 mln t in 2022, and from the North Sea imports were down -56.2% y-o-y to 8.0 mln t”, the shipbroker concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide