Top Asian buyers boost Iran imports

February 22, 2014 - 12:00:00 am
BEIJING/NEW DELHI: Iran’s top two oil customers China and India have boosted imports in January, taking in close to the total volume the Islamic republic is permitted to sell to all buyers following the recent easing of sanctions.

The jumps indicate the Opec member’s total sales in January to its four biggest buyers topped the one million barrels per day (bpd) level at which world powers want to keep shipments capped to maintain pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear programme.  Tough sanctions have more than halved the country’s oil exports since early 2012, costing Tehran billions of dollars in lost revenue every month.

Yet, last month’s rise may not signify a continuing flood of Iran’s oil as shipments may have risen due to one-off factors. India was able to take more because it earlier cut purchases the most among Tehran’s top clients; China’s jump was partly linked to distortions in the data ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.

“I don’t expect to see shipments to Asia rising back to pre-sanctions levels soon,” said Alex Yap, energy consultant at FGE Singapore. “It’s premature to say given the ongoing negotiations, but I don’t think Iran can come back until a further political deal is reached.”  

Six world powers and Iran made a “good start” in talks in Vienna towards reaching a final settlement in the decade-old stand-off over Tehran’s nuclear programme, but conceded their plan to get a deal in the coming months was very ambitious.   An earlier agreement in November allows the Opec member to keep exports at the current reduced levels of about one million bpd, less than half the pre-sanctions level.