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Trade War ‘Totally Stopped’ U.S. Crude Oil Shipments To China

Tsvetana Paraskova

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China oil

The U.S.-China trade war is battering what was a fast-growing business for U.S. oil producers until a few months ago—U.S. crude oil shipments to China have “totally stopped” in recent weeks, the president of China Merchants Energy Shipping Co (CMES) told Reuters on Wednesday.

Since the middle of this year, the U.S. and China have been imposing tariffs on each other’s goods, escalating the row with tit-for-tat tariffs on billions of U.S. dollars worth of goods.

The latest escalation included China slapping a 10-percent tariff on U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) last month.

China has so far spared crude oil from tariffs. Chinese refiners may have been relieved by Beijing’s decision to remove U.S. crude oil from the list of goods in the tariff tit-for-tat, but they are staying away from purchases of U.S. crude as refiners and traders fear that the removal is only temporary, and China may slap tariffs on U.S. crude if the trade war further escalates.

“We are one of the major carriers for crude oil from the U.S. to China. Before (the trade war) we had a nice business, but now it’s totally stopped,” CMES president Xie Chunlin told Reuters on the sidelines of a global maritime forum in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

U.S. crude oil exports to China, which only started in 2016 after the U.S. removed restrictions on crude exports, have been rising over the past year to hit a record 510,000 bpd in June 2018, before easing to 384,000 bpd in July, according to the latest available EIA data.

According to Refinitiv Eikon ship tracking data, U.S. crude oil shipments to China plunged in September to just 600,000 barrels in the month, compared to 9.7 million barrels for the month of August.

Meanwhile, China is looking to replace U.S. crude oil because of the trade war, and is buying crude from West Africa at the highest level in seven years, according to Bloomberg data. Chinese refiners have purchased 1.71 million bpd of crude oil from West Africa for October loadings, the highest since at least August 2011 when Bloomberg started to compile the data.