China pips India in buying Russian crude

NEW DELHI: India is no longer the largest buyer of seaborne Russian oil as it has been forced to reject certain cargoes due to sanctions, allowing China to lap up the commodity at deeply discounted prices.

China imported 1.82 million barrels a day (mb/d) of Russian crude by sea in March, a third more than India’s 1.36 mb/d, according to energy cargo tracker Vortexa. China also receives Russian oil through pipelines.India’s monthly imports of seaborne Russian crude exceeded that of China for about one and a half years. In February, however, China’s 1.3 mb/d of imports from Russia, marginally surpassed India’s 1.27 mb/d. In March, the gap substantially widened.

“Russian Sokol cargoes, which were previously rejected by Indian refiners due to concerns of the cargoes being loaded on sanctioned vessels, were sold at heavy discounts to Chinese refiners, which explains the sharp rise in volumes into China,” said Serena Huang, an analyst at Vortexa.

Stricter enforcement of the sanctions on Russian ships has meant that some of the cargoes meant for Indian refiners are being turned away. Receiving Russian oil is easy but paying for it is difficult if that oil has been carried by a sanctioned ship, said a senior government official. Any Indian bank involved in paying to a sanctioned entity can attract secondary sanctions.

India’s imports of Russian oil, however, increased 7% month-on-month in March, showing increased inclination to source discounted barrels at a time when the benchmark Brent has risen to $89 per barrel. If prices continue to rise, India’s appetite for Russian oil will go up further, said an industry executive.

Harry Byrne

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