TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian imports of Iranian crude climbed above 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in November, after dropping to a one-year trough below that level in the previous month, as higher seasonal demand during winter boosted purchases.
Arrivals of Iranian crude over January to November jumped 19.5 percent on year, led by India that ramped up imports earlier in 2014 following an easing of Western sanctions over Tehran’s disputed nuclear activities.
But overseas purchases by Asia, which is home to the top four buyers of Iranian oil, could be hit by the uncertainty over when Tehran and world powers would be able to settle a 12-year dispute over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, industry sources said.
Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia failed last month to meet a self-imposed deadline to resolve the standoff, extending the talks for seven more months and pushing back any recovery of Iranian oil exports to higher levels to sometime next year at the earliest.
Under an interim agreement, Iran is allowed to keep exports at about 1 million bpd, versus 2.2 million bpd before toughened sanctions were put in place in 2012.
Western officials said they were aiming to secure an agreement on the substance of a final accord by March but that more time would be needed to reach a consensus on the all-important technical details.
“My impression is both sides still have some gaps that they just would not be able to fill,” said Ken Hasegawa, commodity sales manager at Newedge. “Amid crude oversupply, no one would be in trouble if Iran’s lower production continues for the time being, and that is helping balance the market.”
But some analysts believe that a near 50 percent plunge in oil prices since June may soon compel Iran to a final agreement.
Imports by Iran’s four biggest buyers - China, India, Japan and South Korea - have averaged 1.11 million bpd over January-November this year, due to soaring imports by the first two after the partial easing of sanctions.
The four buyers together took in 1.07 million bpd of Iran’s crude last month, up 11.1 percent year on year, government and tanker-tracking data shows.
Editing by Himani Sarkar