China's Iran oil imports hit two-month high in June: customs

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s crude oil imports from Iran rose in June to a two-month high, customs data showed on Tuesday, just as the Islamic nation begins to look ahead to ramping up its exports in the wake of last week’s nuclear deal.

A worker walks down stairs of an oil tank at a refinery in Wuhan, Hubei province March 23, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

Iran’s largest oil client imported 2.76 million tonnes last month, or 671,800 barrels per day (bpd), up 29.6 percent from May and 26.5 percent from a year ago. [O/CHINA1]

Thomson Reuters Oil Research & Forecasts had estimated China’s June imports from Iran at 507,300 bpd, and has said it expects the volumes to hit 562,800 bpd in July.

The U.N. Security Council on Monday backed the deal Iran reached the previous week with six world powers to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions. And U.S. President Barack Obama has said he will veto any rejection of the deal by the U.S. Congress.

Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, has said the country is aiming to add 500,000 bpd to output within two months of sanctions being eased, and as much as 1 million bpd in six to seven months.

Most analysts do not expect Iran to make a major return to the market until next year because of time needed to implement the nuclear agreement and to revamp the OPEC producer’s oil infrastructure.

Over the last 2-1/2 years, sanctions put in place by the United States and the European Union cut Iran’s crude exports roughly in half to around 1 million bpd.

China’s shipments from Iran rose in June at about the same rate as its overall crude imports, which were up 27 percent from a year ago.

At the same time, China’s crude imports from Saudi Arabia jumped 35.8 percent in June to 1.29 million bpd, the highest level since January 2013. That gave the top OPEC producer the No.1 supplier spot again after it dropped to third behind Russia and Angola in May.

Still, Russian imports were also up on year, surging 57.2 percent to 920,000 bpd.

Imports from Iran in the first half of 2015 were at 589,400 bpd, down 6.1 percent compared to the same period last year. Over all of 2014, China imported roughly 555,000 bpd of Iranian crude.

This year, Chinese companies have contracted to lift slightly more than 600,000 bpd of Iranian oil, including a deal with an independent petrochemical maker to supply condensate, a very light oil normally used as a petrochemical feedstock.

Editing by Tom Hogue