* Iran exports to reach 1.26 mln bpd in Dec -source
* Sanctions expected to be lifted early next
* Iran keen to boost exports, stoke economy
By Osamu Tsukimori
TOKYO, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Iran’s crude oil exports are set to hit a six-month high in December as buyers ramp up purchases in expectation that sanctions against the country will be lifted early next year.
Iran is on track to ship 1.26 million barrels a day (bpd) of crude this month, according to an industry source with knowledge of the OPEC member’s tanker loading schedule.
That preliminary number, nearly a quarter higher than levels just two months ago, could stoke worries over a global supply glut that have intensified since the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries abandoned its output ceiling on Dec. 4.
Iran and its eager potential trading partners have been quietly getting ready for life after sanctions, following a landmark July agreement with the West over Tehran’s nuclear policy.
Russia’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency said last week he expected the deal would be implemented in January, leading to sanctions relief for Tehran.
Under the agreement, Iran must carry out steps to scale back its nuclear programme, many of which it has completed.
“We assume that Iran will pass the IAEA nuclear inspection and (be) given the green light for sanctions to be lifted in early 2016,” BMI Research said in a note.
That would set the stage for Iran to boost its exports by 700,000 bpd by the end of 2016, BMI said.
The country has repeatedly said it would ramp up crude oil production by 500,000 bpd as soon as sanctions are lifted in early 2016.
Last week, it cut the price of its light crude for January loadings to entice buyers. Global oil prices have fallen by more than half since June last year as OPEC has kept production strong to push out higher cost producers - with little success.
China, the biggest buyer of Iranian crude, will load 460,000 bpd of crude and condensate from the country in December, according to the source. China loaded 486,000 bpd in November, a three-month peak, added the source, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
India is loading 203,000 bpd in December and loaded 139,000 bpd last month. Japan is lifting 188,000 bpd for December, the highest since April, and loaded 177,000 bpd in November, the source said.
South Korea, the other of Iran’s four big Asian clients, lifted no crude in November and only 29,000 bpd of condensate, but will load a total of 189,000 bpd of crude and condensate this month.
Egypt has made a rare purchase of Iranian crude, lifting 33,000 bpd in November, the source said.
Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori in Tokyo; Writing by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Joseph Radford