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Asia's Iran oil imports hit 32-month low in Sept

China, South Korea and Japan slash purchases ahead of upcoming US sanctions

Tokyo

IMPORTS of Iranian crude oil by major buyers in Asia hit a 32-month low in September, as China, South Korea and Japan sharply cut their purchases ahead of upcoming US sanctions on Tehran, government and ship-tracking data showed.

China, India, Japan and South Korea last month imported 1.13 million barrels per day (bpd) from Iran, according to the data, down 40.9 per cent from a year earlier. This marks the lowest imports since January 2016, right before the previous sanctions targeting Tehran's nuclear programme were lifted.

The United States is re-imposing those sanctions against Iranian crude oil exports on Nov 5 as part of President Donald Trump's efforts to force Tehran to accede to a more restrictive deal on curbing its nuclear and missile programmes.

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The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreed in June to boost supply to help make up for the expected disruption to Iranian exports.

Washington is pushing allies to cut Iranian oil imports to zero, and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that it will be harder for countries to get waivers on the sanctions than it was under the Obama administration.

Japan joined South Korea in temporarily halting Iranian oil loadings, but three of Iran's top five customers - India, China, and Turkey - are resisting the call to end purchases outright, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The United States cannot stop Iranian oil exports, Iran's oil minister said last week, warning that such restrictions only ensure that oil prices remain volatile.

India's Iran imports in September rose 27 per cent from the same month last year to 527,600 bpd, and buyers there plan to take nine million barrels of Iranian oil in November, an industry source said, indicating a commitment to continuing purchases.

South Korean oil imports from Iran fell to zero in September for the first time since September 2012.

China's imports of Iranian crude tumbled 41.6 per cent in September from a year earlier to 458,000 bpd, according to oil flow data on Refinitiv Eikon. China this year halted the release of country breakdowns for its crude imports.

That would mark the lowest Iranian imports by China since January 2017. China's two top state-owned refiners have not placed orders for Iranian oil for November because of concerns about the sanctions.

Japan reduced imports from Iran by 31 per cent last month, trade ministry data showed on Wednesday.

Japan last loaded crude oil from Iran in mid-September, according to Refinitiv data. REUTERS