TOKYO: Japan's biggest oil refiner JX Holdings has renewed its annual contract for importing crude oil from Iran for 2014, with volumes steady to slightly lower compared to this year.
Steady progress in talks between world powers and Iran over Tehran's decade-old disputed nuclear programme is raising hopes shipments from the OPEC member will stabilise next year at the current reduced levels, prompting JX, and potentially, other buyers to renew their contracts.
A breakthrough deal last month allows Iran to keep exports at the current levels of about 1 million barrels per day (bpd), which is less than half of the pre-sanctions level exports.
As part of the deal, buyers of the Iranian oil, most of whom are in Asia, won't be required to continuously reduce purchases from the Middle Eastern nation to qualify for a six-monthly waiver from U.S. sanctions.
JX will import quantities of Iranian crude that are permitted under the Western sanctions, chairman Yasushi Kimura told reporters on Thursday, but declined to comment on the volumes.
An official at JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp, the downstream oil unit of JX Holdings, said import volumes for 2014 from Iran have not been set formally but have been mostly decided, with steady or slightly lower quantities to be imported compared to 2013 levels.
"Volumes are not rising," in 2014, the official said.
JX Nippon is likely to cut its Iran import volumes to around 60,000 bpd in 2014 from an estimated 73,000 bpd this year, an industry source familiar with the matter said in September.
Japan, which has struggled to cut its Iranian crude purchases this year after reducing them more than 40 percent in 2012.
Imported about 188,000 bpd in the first 10 months of 2013, almost unchanged from a year earlier, trade ministry data showed last month. (Reuters)