Russia overtook Saudi Arabia in 2016 to became China’s biggest crude oil supplier for the first year ever, customs data showed on Monday, boosted by robust demand from independent Chinese “teapot” refineries.
Russian shipments surged nearly a quarter over 2015 to about 1.05 million barrels per day (bpd), the data showed, with Saudi Arabia coming in a close second with 1.02 million bpd, up 0.9 percent in 2016 versus the previous year. China is the world’s second-largest oil buyer and the fastest-growing major importer.
While Saudi Arabia counts China’s state oil firms as backbone clients through long-term supply contracts, China’s independent refineries – nicknamed “teapots” due to their smaller processing capacity – saw Russia as a more flexible supplier.
For the teapot plants, authorized to import crude oil for the first time in late 2015, shipments from Russia’s eastern ports are easier to process, coming in smaller cargo sizes at a closer proximity.
Russia may be able to maintain the top spot in 2017 as it expands exports of its East Siberian-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline blend crude. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is set to shoulder the lion’s share of supply cuts agreed to last year by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producers.
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