By Jane Chung
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s crude imports in March fell 2.1% from a year earlier, weighed down by weaker demand because of the coronavirus outbreak, customs data showed on Wednesday.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude importer, shipped in 11.30 million tonnes of crude oil in March, or 2.67 million barrels per day (bpd), compared with 11.54 million tonnes a year earlier, according to the data.
The drop in South Korea’s crude oil imports comes as demand for oil products has fallen due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the country’s top refiner SK Energy lowering its crude run rates by 10%-15% in March.
Of South Korea’s total imports, crude shipments from its top supplier Saudi Arabia rose 27.3% year-on-year to 3.40 million tonnes, or 804,304 bpd, in March on the back of a lower official selling price for Saudi Arabia’s Arab Light grade for Asian customers.
imports were 1.68 million tonnes in March, or 397,951 bpd, up 60.5% from 1.05 million tonnes a year earlier, according to the data. The United States ranked as South Korea’s No.2 crude supplier after Saudi Arabia.
South Korea has sharply increased U.S. crude imports following the end of U.S. sanction waivers in May 2019, which had allowed South Korea to buy Iranian crude oil, mainly condensate, or an ultra-light form of crude oil.
In the first three months of 2020, U.S. crude imports increased 31.4% year-on-year to 4.99 million tonnes, or 402,140 bpd, according to the data.
However, crude imports from other major crude suppliers in March dropped. South Korea’s Iraqi crude imports dropped 43.1% to 993,345 tonnes, or 234,878 bpd, and imports from Kuwait also fell 15.8% to 1.38 million tonnes, or 327,446 bpd.
South Korea’s oil shipments from Iran have remained at zero since May last year.
Overall, South Korea’s first-quarter crude imports were 35.33 million tonnes, or 2.83 million bpd, down 4.9% from 37.15 million tonnes a year earlier.
The country’s final crude oil imports data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC) is due later this month.
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