In March, China’s crude oil imports dropped for a third consecutive month as major state-run refineries were under maintenance and independent refiners limited purchases due to their shrinking margin. 

Reuters, citing data from the General Administration of Customs, reported on Wednesday, April 13, that China imported 42.71 million tons of crude oil last month, or 10.06 million barrels per day (bpd), 14% below year-earlier level of 11.69 million bpd.

The customs data also showed that the March import was also lower than the average of 10.53 million bpd recorded over January and February.

In the first quarter, the total oil imports were 127.85 million tons, or 10.4 million bpd, falling 8% from a year ago. 

According to Reuters, the lower oil imports took place as several refineries at Yangzi, Hainan and Tahe controlled by China’s refining mammoth Sinopec Corp had to carry out routine maintenance and thus closed a combined processing capacity of 460,000 bpd.

Another reason was that the Russia-Ukraine war boosted the global oil prices to more than 130 dollars per barrel last month, narrowing refining margins. As a result, Chinese independent refiners reduced their operating capacity to just above 50%, down 20% from the same period last year. 

Regarding natural gas, Reuters noted that China’s March import was the lowest since October 2020, at only 7.985 million tons. 

Data from Refinitiv tanker tracking showed that LNG imports were at 4.8 million tons last month, unchanged from the previous month.

Customs data on Wednesday also showed that China exported 4.07 million tons of refined oil in March, a 40% plunge from a year earlier and a one-third decline compared to the first two months of this year.

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