China May Be Taking Rebranded Iran Oil Amid Increased Scrutiny

China released data that showed it imported no Iranian crude for the first time in months, a sign that oil from the U.S.-sanctioned nation may be masked as supplies from other countries.

There were zero crude shipments from Iran during January and February, the first time China has recorded no imports from the OPEC producer since August, according to customs data. However, purchases from Oman and Malaysia -- which Iranian supplies are often re-branded as -- have surged this year.

The official figures are at odds with details from third-party sources such as ship-tracking companies and traders, which suggest Iranian flows have recently expanded exponentially. That has drawn a lot more attention from American authorities as Washington and Beijing start a new round of diplomacy under President Joe Biden, and as Tehran seeks an end to U.S. sanctions.

China May Be Taking Rebranded Iran Oil Amid Increased Scrutiny

In the official figures released over the weekend, China’s imports from Oman more than doubled in January from a month earlier to 3.6 million metric tons, and rose further to 4.18 million tons in February. Shipments from Malaysia rose by 58% to 1.64 million tons in January, while they more than quadrupled from the United Arab Emirates for the same month.

Chinese customs didn’t immediately reply to a fax seeking comment on the matter.

China is currently buying close to 1 million barrels a day of sanctioned crude, condensate and fuel oil from Iran, according to recent estimates by analysts and traders. Chinese purchases this month are expected to be the most in almost two years, according to Kpler.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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