China Surpasses U.S. as Largest Crude Oil Importer

February 3, 2018

China surpassed the U.S. in annual gross crude oil imports in 2017 by importing 8.4 million barrels per day (b/d) compared with 7.9 million b/d of U.S. crude oil imports.

China had become the world's largest net importer (imports less exports) of total petroleum and other liquid fuels in 2013. New refinery capacity and strategic inventory stockpiling combined with declining domestic production were the major factors contributing to its recent increase in imports.

In 2017, an average of 56 percent of China's crude oil imports came from countries within OPEC. This declined from a peak of 67 percent in 2012, while Russia and Brazil increased their market share of Chinese imports more than any other country, from nine to 14 percent and from two to five percent respectively. Imports from Russia, which passed Saudi Arabia as China's largest source of foreign crude oil in 2016, totaled 1.2 million b/d in 2017, while Saudi Arabia accounted for 1.0 million b/d. OPEC countries, and some non-OPEC countries, including Russia, agreed to reduce crude oil production through the end of 2018, which may have allowed other countries to increase their market share in China in 2017.

Several factors are driving the increase in Chinese crude oil imports. China had the largest decline in domestic petroleum and other liquids production among non-OPEC countries in 2016, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates it will have had the second-largest decline in 2017. EIA estimates that total liquids production in China averaged 4.8 million b/d in 2017, a year-over-year decline of 0.1 million b/d (two percent), and expects the decline to continue through 2019.

In contrast to declining domestic production, EIA estimates that Chinese growth...

See entire article with supporting charts at The Maritime Executive.


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