* China more than halves Iran oil imports in Feb, same as
* Move adds to Iran woes after EU ramps up sanctions
* Japan refiners worried about Iran supplies
By Chen Aizhu
BEIJING, Jan 5 China will reduce crude
imports from Iran for a second month, sources said on Thursday,
as the two remain divided over payment terms for Iranian crude
targeted by ever tougher international sanctions.
The dispute underlines the difficulty Iran will have selling
its oil after European Union governments on Wednesday agreed in
principle on banning its import and as new U.S. sanctions target
payments for the country's crude.
China is the top buyer of Iranian oil and also the fastest
growing major oil importer, putting it in a strong position to
negotiate for better terms after it more than halved January
It has been scouring the globe for replacements, snapping up
February cargoes from Vietnam, Russia, the Middle East and
Africa at high premiums.
Refiners in number three buyer Japan on Thursday also
expressed concern about being able to secure supplies of the
Islamic Republic's crude, with the country's biggest refiner
saying it is looking at possible alternatives.
China, which buys around 10 percent of Iran's crude exports,
cut its January purchases by about 285,000 barrels per day,
just over half of the total average daily amount it imported in
"February would be the same as January, with the same cut,"
said a Beijing-based senior crude trader who deals with Iranian
The sticking point in talks is over the credit period. Top
Chinese refiner Sinopec Corp, which processes around
nine-tenths of China's Iranian oil imports, is insisting on 90
days to pay for imports, while Iran wants payment in 60 days.
Asked if there was any chance of agreeing a term supply
contract by mid-January, normally the deadline for the two sides
to fix February-loading cargoes, a second Beijing-based senior
oil trader said, "I doubt it."
A senior National Iranian Oil Corp official told Reuters on
Wednesday that two of three Chinese 2012 term deals have already
"Iranians may believe that with most of the terms agreed,
it's a done deal. But the most essential term, the credit
period, remains outstanding," said the first Chinese trader.
"They look at it as a half-full cup, we look at it as half
Under the 2011 deal, Sinopec lifted a total of about 465,000
bpd Iranian oil in two contracts -- one via state trader Zhuhai
Zhenrong Corp and one it signed directly with the National
Iranian Oil Company, China-based oil industry sources have said.
Sinopec's purchases in 2011 included a first-ever term
contract of South Pars condensate of about 75,000 bpd, but this
was largely removed from January liftings and now in February as
well, a third Chinese oil industry official told Reuters.
The Chinese refiner has instead bought condensate from
Australia as well as other Asia Pacific suppliers.
PetroChina, the second-largest Chinese refiner, bought
roughly 50,000 bpd of Iranian oil last year, most through Zhuhai