Top Asian buyers cut Iran oil imports ahead of new US-EU sanctions

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Iran’s top Asian buyers cut down imports by more than a quarter of a million barrels per day in the first five months of the year in order to shield from US-led Western sanctions that come into effect from 1 July.

Tehran admitted on Wednesday its oil exports had fallen, as much as 30%, from normal volumes of 2.2 million barrels daily.

The International Energy Agency estimates suggest Tehran’s exports dipped around 40% since the start of the year.

The latest import numbers from Iran’s top four Asian buyers show purchases have fallen by 257,741 barrels per day, or 18%, in the first five months of this year.

Growing Asian economies depend heavily on oil and despite top Gulf producers vowing to boost oil supplies if they agree to halt Iranian oil imports, importers are wary given that output from other alternative suppliers such as Libya and Iraq has not stabilised.

Both Japan and China going to import as many as 620,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil next month, sources said on Wednesday. The Islamic Republic was selling around two-thirds of its crude exports, or roughly 1.45 million bpd, to these four Asian buyers a year ago.

According to Thomson Reuters calculations from the Asian countries’ customs data, Iran’s exports to Japan, China, India and South Korea fell 25% in May alone to 999,230 bpd from 1,338,193 bpd a year earlier.

Year to date imports by the four countries fell to 1,192,881 bpd from 1,450,622 bpd. At today’s prices that reduction amounts to a loss of around $24 million a day from Iran’s oil earnings.

The US and EU are restricting the flow of funds to Iran on the premise that the country is working on building nuclear weapons, a claim that Tehran strongly dismisses. The Islamic Republic maintains that its nuclear energy programme is strictly for civilian purposes.

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