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China's Iran oil imports hit 7-month high in March ahead of new sanctions

The file photo shows an oil tanker owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC).

China’s oil imports from Iran have hit a seven-month high in March ahead of Washington’s termination of sanctions waivers for major buyers of crude from the Islamic Republic.

The latest data from China’s General Administration of Customs showed on Friday that the country had purchased 2.3 million metric tonnes (mt) of Iranian oil in March, the highest since August 2018.

The figures also showed that the March volume of China’s Iran crude imports had increased 6.2 percent from February on a barrels per day (b/d) basis despite dropping by a quarter from the same month of last year.

The data were released a few days after the White House threatened the buyers of Iranian oil with sanctions if they fail to stop their purchases by May 1, ending six months of waivers which allowed Tehran’s eight largest customers to continue importing limited volumes.

Separately on Friday, two officials at the administration of US President Donald Trump, who were speaking on condition of anonymity, said that neither a wind-down period nor a short-term waiver on China’s oil purchases from Iran were being contemplated.

“They’ve known about it, so to my knowledge that’s not being contemplated,” said one of the officials, referring to Chinese authorities.

The officials also argued that China, which is Iran’s top oil consumer, has alternative oil suppliers including the US and Saudi Arabia.

Announcing the fresh oil sanctions against Iran, the White House said that its move is meant to “bring Iran’s oil exports to zero” and deny the government “its principal source of revenue.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a press conference on Monday that Saudi Arabia and the UAE had agreed to “ensure an appropriate supply (of oil) for the markets” in order to make up for the loss of Iranian oil in the global market.

Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh has said Washington will never be able to achieve its “dream” of cutting Tehran’s oil exports to “zero.” Zangeneh also accused Saudi Arabia and the UAE of exaggerating their ability to replace Iran’s oil in the wake of US measure.

Leading US-based Foreign Policy magazine predicted that Trump's new Iran sanctions would hurt the United States in the long term.

The fresh restrictive measures against Iran’s oil exports are believed to be part of Trump's “energy dominance” agenda that seeks to advance diplomatic and policy objectives through rapidly expanding US oil and gas exports.

Under the agenda, the US is trying to boost its exports to Asian countries.

The United States is now the world’s biggest oil producer, pumping more than 12 million bpd with exports topping 3 million bpd.

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