The U.S. is quickly ramping up oil sales to China, the world’s biggest importer, forcing traditional suppliers in the Mideast to look for new markets or hold on to their crude in an already oversupplied world.
The U.S. accounted for 7% of Chinese crude imports through mid-September, according to London-based market intelligence firm Vortexa Ltd—up from 0.4% in January. Meanwhile, market share for Saudi Arabia, China’s biggest traditional supplier, fell to 15% from 19% in the same period. Based on recent tanker data, U.S. exports to China are expected to reach as much as 700,000 barrels a day at the end of October, forecasts Virginie Bahnik, a senior analyst at Geneva-based Petro-Logistics SA.
Earlier this year, China agreed to buy U.S. crude as part of a broader deal meant to ease rising trade tensions between the two world powers. The Trump administration agreed to cut some tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for purchases of American farm, energy and manufacturing exports.
China’s buying so far is a long way from fulfilling commitments made in that deal, and to some extent it is simply restoring crude flows that were cut off amid the earlier U.S.-China trade tensions. As part of a deal, Beijing agreed in January to buy $52.4 billion worth of oil and liquefied-natural-gas from the U.S. by the end of 2021. The buying was delayed by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, but has ratcheted up more recently.
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