China's 2023 crude oil imports hit record as fuel demand recovers

China's annual crude oil imports hit an all-time high in 2023, customs data showed on Friday, as fuel demand recovered from a pandemic-induced slump despite economic headwinds.

China imported 11% more crude oil last year versus 2022 at 563.99 million metric tons, equivalent to 11.28 million barrels per day (bpd), up from a previous record of 10.81 million bpd in 2020, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

Imports in December totalled 48.36 million tons, or 11.39 million bpd, up from November's 10.33 million bpd, Reuters reported.

Domestic passenger transport levels increased steadily through 2023 following the country's abrupt exit from pandemic restrictions in November 2022.

China's highway traffic for 2023 jumped 43.6% from the previous year in passenger kilometres for the January to November period, according to Ministry of Transport data.

Domestic air traffic also recovered rapidly, rising 27% on the previous year to reach a new record in December, according to data from aviation analytics firm OAG. International travel saw a more muted recovery, with December flight volumes still down 39% on the same month in 2019, shortly before borders were closed.

Domestic diesel demand was weaker amid an ongoing slowdown in the construction sector and an uncertain outlook for the manufacturing sector.

China's oil demand growth has been forecast by analysts to slow to around 4% in the first half of 2024 due to the country's property market woes, although moderating growth in domestic output will continue to support import levels.

The primary drivers for oil imports in 2024 are expected to be aviation demand for kerosene and demand in the petrochemical sector for high-end chemical products used in the manufacture of key goods such as solar panels and electric vehicles.

China's demand for naphtha, a key feedstock for petrochemicals, is forecast by the International Energy Agency to grow 13.3% through this year.

Friday's data also showed China's natural gas imports, comprising both liquefied natural gas (LNG) and piped gas, rose 9.9% to reach 119.97 million tons in 2023. That's the second highest on record after 2021, when China imported 121.4 million tons.

Imports in December at 12.65 million tons hit a record monthly high, up from November's 10.95 million tons, to meet strong heating demand amid colder-than-usual weather. Growing pipeline gas supplies from Russia also helped bolster the imports.

China last year exported a total of 62.69 million metric tons of refined fuel products, which include diesel, aviation fuel, gasoline and marine fuel, up 16.7% on the previous year, the data also showed.

December exports at 4.64 million tons were the lowest since last June as companies ran short of export quotas.

News ID 636087


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