BEIJING, March 20 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia regained the spot as China’s biggest crude supplier in the first two months of 2022, having been overtaken by Russia in December, while Russian shipments fell 9% as the cut in import quotas led independent refiners to reduce their purchases.
Saudi crude oil totaled 14.61 million tonnes in January-February, equivalent to 1.81 million barrels per day (bpd), down from 1.86 million bpd a year earlier, according to data from the General Administration of Customs on Sunday.
Russia’s import clearances totaled 12.67 million tonnes in the two months, or 1.57 million bpd. This figure compares with 1.72 million bpd in the corresponding period of 2021.
Demand for Russia’s flagship ESPO crude from independent Chinese refiners has been hit by Beijing’s crackdown on tax evasion and illegal import quota trading.
The government also registered its first batch of 2022 crude import permits to independent refiners to remove inefficient refining capacity.
Russia’s imports could fall in March as buyers around the world shy away from their cargoes in the wake of the intensifying crisis in Ukraine. However, Reuters reported that Russia’s Surgutneftegaz was working with China to circumvent Western sanctions and maintain oil sales.
Customs data on Sunday showed that 259,937 tonnes of crude arrived in China in January, almost the same level as in the previous month, the first imports by official Chinese data since December 2020.
The shipments come as Tehran and Western nations hold talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal, pointing to a possible lifting of US sanctions on the Islamic republic’s oil exports.
Chinese customs did not register any Iranian shipments in February.
Official data from China also did not show any imports from Venezuela, which is also subject to US sanctions, in January and February.
(Reporting by Muyu Xu and Dominique Patton. Editing in Spanish by Javier Leira)