* Feb imports at 521,330 bpd, up 81 pct on yr, up 68 pct on
(Adds graphic, editor)
BEIJING, March 21 China's crude oil imports from
Iran rebounded last month from a 10-month low hit in January,
official data showed, in line with an International Energy
Agency (IEA) report that said new U.S. sanctions appeared to
have had little impact on shipments.
The rebound also came after an official from China's biggest
refiner, Sinopec Corp, said his refinery will process
more Iranian crude this year than last.
China, Iran's top crude oil customer, bought nearly 2.0
million tonnes of Iranian crude in February, equivalent to about
521,330 barrels per day (bpd), up 68 percent from 309,906 bpd in
January, according to data from the General Administration of
February crude imports from Iran rose 81 percent from
288,576 bpd a year earlier.
The IEA said in its March report that new U.S. sanctions on
Iran implemented in February, which barred the country from
repatriating oil export earnings, appeared not to have had an
impact on February shipments.
Iranian crude oil exports are expected to hold strong and
even exceed 1.4 million bpd in March from 1.28 million bpd in
February, said the IEA, which coordinates the energy policies of
major consuming nations.
The report was contrary to industry expectations that the
new U.S. measures would push Iran's exports in March to their
lowest since Western sanctions came into effect in 2012.
China - along with other main buyers of Iranian crude,
including India, Japan and South Korea - has been under pressure
since last year to reduce imports in the face of U.S. and
European sanctions. The West has imposed sanctions targeting
Iran's vital oil sector as it suspects Tehran wants to develop
nuclear weapons, an allegation Iran denies.
China is Iran's top trading partner and has repeatedly
voiced its opposition to unilateral sanctions outside those
sanctioned by the United Nations, such as those imposed by the
A Sinopec official told Reuters this month that the refiner
will process more Iranian crude at its second-largest plant in
2013 than it did in 2012.
Yu Xizhi, president of Sinopec Maoming Petrochemical Corp
(SMPC), said that the plan for his refinery to process more
Iranian crude "followed the government's requirement to maximise
our import volume from Iran (this year)."
Still, the year-on-year gain in February imports is coming
off a low base. In the first quarter of 2012, China's crude
imports from Iran fell a third from a year earlier, as China and
Iran wrangled over contract terms.
China's total crude imports in February fell nearly 9
percent from a year earlier on a daily basis, customs data
showed earlier in the month.
China imported 20.78 million tonnes, or 5.42 million bpd, of
crude last month, down from 5.95 million bpd of crude in
February 2012, the second highest daily imports on record.
(Reporting by Judy Hua and Chen Aizhu; Editing by Tom Hogue)