FEATURE | US crude oil exports to China drop to zero in August

In August, no US seaborne exports of crude oil to China were recorded, a massive change to the export pattern seen since early 2017.

Chinese buyers, led by the world’s top tanker charterer Unipec, were rumoured to have stayed away – and new data proves it. Now rumours have it, that Chinese buyers returned in early October, data will eventually show if this is right and to what extent at a later stage.

Despite being left out of the "official" trade war at the last minute, crude oil was removed from the Chinese US$16 billion list before it came into force on 23 August 2018, crude oil exports are now taking centre stage.

”The tanker shipping industry is hurt when distant US crude oil export destinations like China, are swapped for much shorter hauls into the Caribbean and South, North and Central America,” said BIMCO’s Chief Shipping Analyst Peter Sand.

”The trade war is all around us now. What appeared on the horizon half a year ago is now impacting many seaborne trading lanes.

”All commodities may be impacted regardless of them being officially tariffed or not. What we see in terms of crude oil transport, is harmful to the global shipping industry as well as cumbersome to the exporters and importers of the product.” 

In 2017, Chinese imports accounted to 23 per cent of total US crude oil exports. In 2018 that number was 22 per cent during the first seven month. In August the share fell to 0 per cent.

US crude oil exports to any other destination were record high

Total US crude oil exports excluding china hit a new all-time high in September at 6.96 million tonnes.

Exports to Asia jumped in June and July, from a 43 per cent share of total exports since the start of 2017 to reach a 56 per cent share. In August that share fell back to 46 per cent. The two other major importing regions are Europe (26 per cent) and North and Central America (18 per cent), while South America (five per cent), Caribbean (two per cent) and others (four per cent) make up the rest. (August share of exports in brackets)

“For the crude oil tanker shipping industry distances often matter more than volumes,” added Sands.

“Even though volumes were record high, tonne-mile demand dropped by 19 per cent from July to August due to the shift in trade patterns.

“Exports to Asia are by far the most important. When measuring the tanker demand in tonnes-miles (TM), exports of US crude oil to Asia generated 70 per cent of TM-demand on that trade in August– down from 78 per cent in June and 75 per cent in July.”

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