* First-half imports at 424,183 bpd, down 1.9 pct on yr
* June imports down 39.1 pct on yr, 31 pct vs May
* First-half cuts on top of 21 pct cut in H1 2012
(Recasts to focus on H1 imports; adds quotes and details)
By Chen Aizhu and Judy Hua
BEIJING, July 22 China's daily crude oil imports
from Iran fell 1.9 percent in the first half of the year from
the same period in 2012, making it easier for it to stake a
claim later to a waiver extension on U.S. sanctions against the
Middle Eastern nation.
Countries that import Iranian oil must make steady
reductions in their volumes to continue to receive six-month
exemptions from the U.S. sanctions aimed at cutting off Iran's
oil revenues and bringing it to the negotiating table.
China won a six-month waiver in June, along with other Asian
importers of Iranian crude, and officials have said Chinese
refiners would likely cut Iran shipments 5-10 percent this year
from last. China's next waiver review is due November-December.
The drop in the first-half volumes came on top of a 21
percent cut in China's purchases from Tehran in the first half
of last year. A contract dispute had slashed Iranian oil
shipments in the first quarter of 2012.
June volumes imported from Iran were also sharply down
compared with the same month last year and from May imports.
"It looks like China was getting a bit more aggressive with
its cut in June in order to meet its overall target for the
year," said Victor Shum, managing director of downstream energy
consulting at IHS.
ChinaIran's largest oil client, brought in 424,183 barrels
per day (bpd) of Iranian crude in the first six months of the
year, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on
Compared with the second half of 2012, Chinese imports in
the first six months of this year were down 4.6 percent, Reuters
calculations based on customs data showed.
A Beijing-based trader dealing in Iranian oil said there
would also be some cuts in Chinese firms' July loadings over
contract volumes, which should be reflected in July-August
The main cuts for the year could come from Unipec, trading
vehicle of Sinopec Corp, as the state refiner came
under more political pressure compared to the unlisted state
trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp, which was blacklisted by Washington
in early 2012.
The U.S. and European measures aimed at Iran's oil exports
have cost Tehran billions of dollars in lost revenue each month,
although the volume reductions can fluctuate month to month.
Iran's top four buyers - China, India, Japan and South Korea
- increased their purchases in May to 1.13 million bpd, up 11
percent from a year ago, according to Reuters calculations from
earlier data and oil import figures.
That still puts Iran's oil exports down about 50 percent
from pre-2012 levels.
South Korea also reported on Monday that its Iran oil
imports were down 23 percent in June from the same month a year
ago and down 27 percent in the first half of the year.
Washington has been seeking this year to cut Iran's oil
shipments further, with some U.S. lawmakers saying the goal is
Iranian crude exports of 500,000 bpd.
China imported 1.582 million tonnes or 384,980 bpd of
Iranian crude in June, 31 percent below the import volumes in
May, according to the GAC data.
The May imports from Iran had jumped nearly half from April
because congestion at Chinese ports had delayed some of the
China's June oil import from Iran were down 39.1 percent
from June 2012, when imports hit a then 11-month high of 633,000
bpd ahead of EU sanctions that banned insurers from covering
shipment of Iranian oil.
China's total crude oil imports last month fell to the
lowest in nine months at 5.39 million bpd, as a slowing economy
cut into fuel demand by manufacturing and the transport sector.
June volumes from Saudi Arabia were down 20.7 percent on
year for the month, according to the GAC data. The Saudi crude
volumes were down 3.5 percent for the first half of the year.
To compensate for cuts in Iranian oil imports, China sharply
increased purchases of Iraqi supplies, which grew 38.6 percent
in the first half of the year over a year ago to 458,972 bpd.
(Addtional reporting by Florence Tan in Singapore; Editing by