Iran is making an unprecedented shipment of crude oil to China. It is doing so, according to oil industry sources and global infrastructure and financial markets data provider Refinitiv, secretly to what is already its largest buyer in recent months. Iran has shipped around 17.8 million tonnes - a figure close to 306,000 barrels per day - of crude oil to China over the past 14 months, reaching a record in January and February.
These figures have increased since Joe Biden arrived at the White House and may continue to rise if the United States and Iran do not manage to bring closer together positions on the return to the nuclear agreement, which the Americans left in 2018 under the presidency of Donald Trump.
The amount of crude oil exported by Iran is distributed in approximately 75% of indirect imports and was described as oil from the Sultanate of Oman, the United Arab Emirates or Malaysia. China entered mainly from ports in the eastern province of Shandong, where it has the largest number of refineries in the country, or the port of Ingkou in the north-eastern region of Liaoning. Petrologystix, a tanker-tracking company in Geneva, says the volume of Iranian oil cargoes exceeded 600,000 barrels per day for the first time since May 2019. They believe this growth, along with Trump's departure from the presidency, may change buyer behaviour.
The same sources - who declined to reveal their identities due to the sensitivity of the information - point to India's state-owned refineries adding quantities of Iranian oil to their annual import plans. The country headed by Ram Nath Kovind is hoping that US restrictions on Iran will soon be lifted so that it can rely on supplies from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member country. Joe Biden intends to reactivate negotiations with the Iranian state to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), although Tehran insists that the restrictions must first be lifted before sitting down to negotiate, something that Washington is not willing to do at the moment.
The same sources also added that the National Iranian Oil Company had begun talks with potential clients from different Asian countries since Joe Biden took office as President on 20 January this year. The contacts are aimed at assessing the demand for Iranian oil and the willingness of other governments to establish agreements with the regime headed by Hassan Rohani. Since the sanctions imposed in 2018, exports to China, South Korea, India and Japan have fallen drastically. To which must be added the cuts imposed by OPEC producers that have led to a reduction in the export of high-sulphur oil in the Middle East.
"They approached us and said they expected in the near future to resume oil supplies," said a source at the Indian refining company. There is a possibility that the return of Iranian supplies to India - which is the world's third largest crude oil importer - will reduce demand for immediate shipments. This is important because, in recent times, this demand has risen sharply due to reduced supplies from Iraq and the shortening of some contract deadlines by Kuwait. The Indian government is optimistic that it will be able to import Iranian crude within the next three to four months. Moreover, Indian refinery officials claim that their company has already received messages from the National Iranian Oil Company, assuming that a formal agreement will be signed after the Iranian elections scheduled for June.