Iran's oil exports rise 'significantly' despite sanctions, minister says

DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) - Iran’s oil exports have climbed in recent months and its sales of petroleum products to foreign buyers reached record highs despite U.S. sanctions, the oil minister said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh arrives at the OPEC headquarters in Vienna, Austria December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

Bijan Zanganeh did not give figures but said exports of crude had recently risen “significantly” despite tough sanctions that were imposed since 2018, when the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a nuclear pact.

“We set the highest record of exports of refined products in the history of the oil industry during the embargo period,” the minister said, according to his ministry’s news agency SHANA.

Under sanctions, Iran has tended not to release official data on oil or product exports, a mainstay of its economy.

Iranian oil exports were as high as 2.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018 but fell to 300,000 bpd in 2020, assessments based on tanker tracking show.

Iran has called on the new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden to return to the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers, saying Tehran will resume full adherence to the pact that limits its nuclear work if Washington lifts sanctions.

Officials in Biden’s administration have said Washington would not take a quick decision on rejoining.

“If the sanctions are lifted, we will return to the market stronger than before, and faster than expected,” Zanganeh said. “I am not worried about the lost markets.”

Iran has increased exports of petroleum products in recent years, although products also fall under sanctions.

Unlike crude, where the ultimate buyer is a refinery, gasoil and other products can be sold to smaller industrial or residential buyers making sales harder to trace or track.

“The enemy and Trump wanted us to perish and die, our exports to reach zero,” he said, adding “but we are alive and working with more hope to build the country.”

In the past, China, India and South Korea were major buyers of Iranian oil. New Delhi and Seoul have halted purchases and Chinese official data shows limited Iranian imports.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London; Editing by Jason Neely and Edmund Blair