* Sinopec last imported U.S. crude refineries in Sept
* VLCC Maran Artemis waiting off Qingdao to discharge U.S. oil
* Trading arm Unipec to import more U.S. oil in May and June
* Volume still small compared with 2018 imports (Adds details)
By Florence Tan
SINGAPORE, April 23 (Reuters) - Asia’s largest refiner Sinopec is set to receive its first U.S. crude oil cargo this week since halting imports from the country in September, two sources with knowledge of the matter said on Tuesday.
The resumption is a sign that the Chinese refiner sees fewer risks from importing U.S. oil as trade talks between the two world’s largest economies have progressed. Sinopec’s trading arm Unipec suspended imports in September in case Beijing imposed punitive tariffs on U.S. oil imports as part of the U.S.-China trade war.
The supertanker Maran Artemis, carrying about 2 million barrels of U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) Midland crude, is waiting off eastern China’s Qingdao port to discharge its oil, according to Refinitiv analyst Emma Li.
Noble, a second Very Large Crude Carrier also carrying 2 million barrels of WTI Midland crude, is scheduled to arrive in Zhanjiang in southern China in early May, Refinitiv data showed.
Unipec has purchased more cargoes to arrive in May and June as the company gradually resumes U.S. oil imports, the sources said.
Sinopec could not be immediately reached for comment.
“The suspension was a precautionary measure,” one of the sources said.
The company could have imported U.S. oil in recent months, but it decided not to take the risk of having cargoes at sea that could be caught out by the introduction of a Chinese tariff, he added.
Some of China’s smaller, independent refiners have previously tested the system by importing smaller cargoes in November and March which successfully cleared customs without invoking tariffs, trade sources said.
China imported 245,600 barrels per day of U.S. oil in 2018, equivalent to about 3-1/2 supertankers per month, data from China customs showed, equivalent to about 2.7 percent of China’s total imports. (Reporting by Florence Tan; editing by Christian Schmollinger and Richard Pullin)