BEIJING (Reuters) - Russia remained the top crude oil supplier to China in January, data showed, beginning 2018 on a strong note after the start-up of an expanded trans-Siberia pipeline and as Beijing released more crude import quotas to independent refiners.
Angola and Iraq took the second and third positions for the month, leapfrogging Saudi Arabia, which was the second-largest supplier to China in 2017.
Russian supplies came in at 5.67 million tonnes, or 1.34 million barrels per day (bpd), up 23.4 percent from a year earlier, data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs showed on Saturday.
The January number compared with 1.194 million bpd in December.
Last month, data showed Russia notched up its second year as China’s largest supplier in 2017, surpassing Saudi Arabia - OPEC’s top exporter - by some 150,000 barrels each day.
The strong Russian exports to the world’s largest crude oil buyer came as a second East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline, as well as expanded domestic connections in China, started commercial operation in January.
In a reshuffle of the pack, Angola ranked second with 4.68 million tonnes, or 1.1 million bpd, of crude in January, down 5.4 percent from a year earlier.
China imported 4.45 million tonnes, or 1.05 million bpd, of crude from Iraq, up 28 percent from a year ago.
Saudi Arabia supplied 4.29 million tonnes, or 1.01 million bpd, to China in January. That was down 15 percent from the same year-ago rate and compared with 1.11 million bpd in December.
Even so, exports from the kingdom are expected to rise to record levels this year as Saudi Aramco ramps up supplies to Chinese state oil firm CNOOC, as well as the Huajin refinery owned by defense giant NORINCO.
China’s total crude oil imports last month soared 20 percent from the same month a year earlier to a record rate of 9.57 million barrels per day, beating the previous peak of 9.17 million bpd.
Customs data also showed China’s oil imports from the United States soared to 2.01 million tonnes last month, or roughly 472,508 bpd. That compares with just 257,861 tonnes a year ago.
In 2017, U.S. shipments, which benefited from OPEC-led supply cuts, averaged about 153,000 bpd.
For detailed crude oil imports by country, click [O/CHINA1]
Reporting by Chen Aizhu, Josephine Mason and Pei Li; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell