Asian Imports of Iranian Crude Fall 22%

Asian Imports of Iranian Crude Fall 22%Asian Imports of Iranian Crude Fall 22%

Asian imports of Iranian crude fell nearly 22 percent from a year ago to below 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in January, led by cuts in India, where refiners had been asked to curtail orders ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama.

Imports by Iran's four biggest buyers - China, India, Japan and South Korea - averaged 982,525 bpd last month, the first time the level had dropped below the 1 million bpd mark since October last year, government and trade data showed, Reuters reported.

The imports have again reached below the level allowed under a 2013 interim agreement on Iran's nuclear energy program. A fresh round of Iran-P5+1 talks is scheduled for next week, as a March 31 deadline for an initial accord looms.

"The scope of what the US is trying to achieve has been narrowed quite significantly. In that respect the prospects for a deal have improved," Torbjorn Soldvedt, principle Middle East and North Africa analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, told Reuters Global Oil Forum.

"A sudden lifting of the oil embargo in the event of a deal seems unlikely though," he said. India led the way in January, with its imports falling a third as refiners responded to a government request to curtail purchases after a period of high imports and to avoid criticism during Obama's visit late last month.

The United States has made some progress in talks with Iran on its nuclear program, a senior US official said early this week, but both sides said much remained to be done.

Iran agreed with the United States and five other world powers in 2013 to work towards a final agreement on its nuclear program in exchange for the relaxation of some sanctions.

After two earlier deadlines were missed, the aim now is to reach a political understanding by the end of March and a lasting agreement by a June 30 deadline.

Without a final agreement most of Iran's Asian buyers are unlikely to increase imports except China, sources have said.

The West claims Iran's nuclear activities may be aimed at making a weapon, while Tehran insists its nuclear program is aimed only at civilian purposes. Under the interim agreement of November 2013, Iran is allowed to keep exports at about 1 million bpd versus shipments of around 2.2 million bpd before toughened sanctions were put in place in early 2012.

  China Buys Higher Than Forecast

China's crude imports from Iran fell 17 percent in January from a year ago as the world's second largest crude importer eased off a late-2014 buying spree, although the shipments still came in higher than forecast, customs data showed on Friday.

The imports last month from Iran were 1.99 million tons, or 469,000 barrels per day (bpd), also down 22 percent from December, the data showed.

Thomson Reuters Oil Research & Forecasts had put China's imports from Iran in January at 1.86 million tons, or 438,000 bpd. Volumes from Iran are expected to have rebounded in February to just over 550,000 bpd, despite the week-long Lunar New Year holiday falling in the second half of the month.

The January imports were lower than last year's daily average of 550,000 bpd - which was only slightly lower than the daily averages seen in 2011 before the United States and the European Union toughened sanction over Tehran's nuclear program in early 2012.

China ramped up overall crude imports late last year, taking advantage of a collapse in oil prices in part to build its strategic petroleum reserves. In December, its total crude imports topped 7 million bpd for the first time.

In January, China's crude imports from top exporter Saudi Arabia also fell as the buying spree slowed, dropping 15 percent from a year ago to 1.02 million bpd. Imports from Russia were 689,800 bpd, however, up 31 percent on the year. Russia became China's third-largest crude supplier last year, behind Saudi Arabia and Angola.