UPDATE 3-China, India slash oil imports from Iran in July
* China's July imports at 454,500 bpd, down 28 pct on month; down 30 pct on yr
* China's Jan-July imports at 433,450 bpd, down 22 pct on yr
* India shipments from Iran fall over 40 percent from June and a year ago (Adds India July imports)
By Judy Hua and Nidhi Verma
BEIJING/NEW DELHI, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Iran's biggest oil buyers, China and India, sharply cut their imports in July, official data from the two countries on Tuesday showed, as Tehran customers came under further pressure from Western sanctions and faced big shipping complications.
China's crude oil imports from Iran fell nearly a third in July from an 11-month high in June, while shipments by India, the world's fourth-largest oil consumer, fell over 40 percent.
Cuts have secured the two major oil consumers a waiver from the United States on financial sanctions targeted at Tehran.
The United States and Europe have levied tough sanctions on Iran in a bid to choke off oil revenues and halt a controversial nuclear programme the West fears is aimed at developing atomic weapons, which Iran has denied.
For China, the world's second-largest oil consumer, another month of rising imports could have jeopardised a last-minute waiver the United States granted it for six months from June 28, after Iran's top oil buyer showed significant cuts in imports in the first months of the year on an unrelated pricing dispute with the Middle Eastern country.
"China's crude imports from Iran recovered quickly in May and June," said a Beijing-based oil analyst who declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
"The Chinese government might have had some pressure of not boosting imports too much because the United States had just given China a waiver."
The strong June imports by state-owned firms had fuelled speculation China might go on a buying spree for more Iranian crude ahead of a July 1 European Union deadline barring insurance firms from covering Iranian crude shipments.
"The biggest guideline given is that overall imports from Iran should not deviate too much from the contract volume, although Sinopec may want to buy more when Iranian oil is cheap," the analyst added.
China bought 1.93 million tonnes of Iran's crude in July, equivalent to about 454,500 barrels per day, against 632,618 bpd in June, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.
China's purchase represents about 41 percent of Iran's estimated total exports of 1.1 million bpd in July.
India, which is reluctant to follow China's move and take shipments on a delivered basis from Tehran, shipped in 201,860 barrels per day (bpd) from Iran in July compared with 346,600 bpd in June and about 338,900 bpd in July 2011, data made available to Reuters showed on Tuesday.
New Delhi has approved just a few cargoes delivered on ships and insurance arranged by Iran, as it wants to keep business for its own companies. But Indian shippers are reluctant to make the journey as there is only limited insurance available and the freight rate for one domestic ship booked so far was very high.
CUTS BY DEFAULT OR DESIGN?
China's imports in the first seven months stood at 433,450 bpd, or 22 percent below levels a year ago, principally because of sharp first-quarter cuts made as Beijing and Tehran wrangled over contract terms.
The average of June and July imports was around 540,000 bpd, and China will lift at near full contract volumes of about 510,000 bpd for July and August, industry officials told Reuters this month. Iran will provide shipping and third-party insurance and supply China on a delivered basis.
India's refiners have struggled to import from Iran because they are largely reliant on New Delhi's case-by-case approval. Privately-run Essar's imports from Iran rose by a third in July to 154,400 bpd compared with June, the data showed.
Essar renewed its 100,000 bpd deal with Iran for this fiscal year starting April 1 but plans to lift 15 percent less volumes. State-run MRPL, previously Iran's biggest Indian client, has reduced the size of its deal to 100,000 bpd compared with 124,000 bpd of 2011/12.
MRPL lifted only a fifth of the volumes it planned from Iran in July because of insurance and shipping issues and is topping up shortfalls through spot tenders and increased volumes from suppliers such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
China and India's shipments from Iran in July were also lower than a forecast by Geneva-based oil consultancy Petro-logistics, which pegged China's July-arriving purchases at 590,000 bpd. (Additional reporting by Chen Aizhu in BEIJING; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Fayen Wong)
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