* Crude imports at 6.3 mln bpd in Mar, down 5.2 pct from Feb
* April imports expected at level similar to Mar
* Implied crude surplus at almost 585,000 bpd in Jan-Feb
By Adam Rose
BEIJING, April 13 (Reuters) - China’s imports rose 14 percent in March from a year ago, customs data showed on Monday, as domestic oil production has remained flat and demand for refined fuel products held at near-record levels in recent months.
China still imported a lower-than-expected 26.81 million tonnes of crude oil in March, data from the General Administration of Customs showed. On a daily basis, March imports of 6.3 million barrels per day (bpd) were down 5.2 percent from February.
China’s crude imports have been sustained by flat domestic oil output and implied oil demand that has remained above 10 million bpd for the past six months. The International Energy Agency (IEA) last month revised up its forecast for China’s oil demand growth in 2015 to 2.7 percent.
With global oil prices at their lowest levels in six years, China has also been adding to its strategic reserves, although some analysts say China could be running out of storage space and that the imports could pull back.
The March volumes were 1 million tonnes shy of an earlier estimate by Thomson Reuters Oil Research and Forecasts. April imports are forecast to stay on par with actual March volumes.
In the first quarter, China imported 80.34 million tonnes of crude oil, or 6.52 million bpd, up 7.5 percent over the same period last year.
China generated an implied surplus of almost 585,000 bpd in the first two months of the year, not accounting for changes in commercial stocks, according to a Reuters analysis of Chinese government data.
China is in the second phase of filling its strategic petroleum reserves (SPR), and revealed in November that the first phase was holding roughly 91 million barrels. The government rarely releases details about its reserves.
China also imported 2.87 million tonnes of oil products in March and exported 2.83 million tonnes, leaving net oil product imports at 40,000 tonnes, customs data showed.
China has remained a net oil product importer so far this year, after being a net exporter for half the months of 2014.
For a summary of China’s commodities trade:
1 Tonne=7.3 barrels Editing by Tom Hogue