China's 2023 Crude Oil Imports Hit Record High as Fuel Demand Recovers

tendata blogTrade Trends News

ten data blog15-01-2024

- Crude oil imports of 11.28 million barrels per day in 2023, up 11% year-on-year

- Natural gas imports in 2023 second highest on record; December imports hit record high

- Refined fuel exports up 16.7% year-on-year in 2023

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

China's crude imports rose 11% last year from 2022 to 563.99 million tons, equivalent to 11.28 million barrels per day (bpd), up from a record 10.81 million bpd in 2020, according to the General Administration of Customs.

Imports in December totaled 48.36 million tons, or 11.39 million b/d, up from 10.33 million b/d in November.

Domestic passenger traffic is expected to grow steadily through 2023, following the abrupt lifting of the November 2022 epidemic restrictions.

Data from the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) showed that China's road passenger traffic grew 43.6% in January-November 2023 compared to the previous year.

Domestic air traffic has also recovered rapidly, with a record 27% increase in December over the previous year, according to aviation analyst firm OAG. International travel recovered more slowly, with December flights still down 39 percent from the same month in 2019, shortly before the border closed.

Domestic diesel demand was weak due to the ongoing slowdown in construction and an uncertain outlook for the manufacturing sector.

Analysts expect China's oil demand growth to slow to around 4% in the first half of 2024 due to the sluggish Chinese real estate market, although slower domestic output growth will continue to support import levels.

The main drivers of oil imports in 2024 are expected to be aviation demand for kerosene and the petrochemical industry's demand for high-end chemicals used in the manufacture of key products such as solar panels and electric vehicles.

The IEA expects China's demand for naphtha, the main feedstock for petrochemicals, to grow by 13.3 percent this year.

Friday's data also showed China's natural gas imports, which include liquefied natural gas (LNG) and pipeline gas, rising 9.9 percent to 119.7 million tons in 2023. This is the second highest recorded after China's imports of 121.4 million tons in 2021.

Imports reached a monthly high of 12.65 million tons in December, up from 10.95 million tons in November, to meet strong heating demand in cold weather. Growing pipeline gas supplies from Russia also helped increase imports.

The data also showed that China exported 62.69 million tons of refined oil products, including diesel, aviation fuel, gasoline and marine fuel, last year, up 16.7 percent from the previous year.

Exports stood at 4.64 million tons in December, the lowest level since June last year, due to a shortage of export quotas for companies.

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