Japanese refiners stop importing Iranian oil as exemptions close
Japanese refiners have stopped importing oil from Iran after buying 15.3 million barrels between January and March before a temporary US sanctions exemption expires, sector sources and Reventiv Aikon reported.
The waiver, which allows Japan to buy some Iranian oil for 180 days, ends in early May. But Japanese refiners want to ensure that there is enough time for all shipments already loaded into Japan to arrive and to complete the payment process.
"We believe that it is difficult to continue to load Iranian oil after March," a spokesman for Fuji Oil said, adding that banks and insurance companies wanted to ensure that all transactions and deliveries were carried out properly before the end of the exemptions.
The latest shipment of Iranian crude on board the giant Kisugawa is expected to arrive in Chiba, Japan, on April 9, the data show.
Last year, the United States called on countries to halt imports of Iranian oil when it re-imposed sanctions on Iran's oil sector on November 4 over Tehran's nuclear program.
But Washington has granted temporary exemptions to Iran's biggest oil clients - Japan, China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Greece and Turkey.
Refineries in Japan, the world's fourth-largest oil consumer, stopped loading Iranian oil by mid-September and resumed loading only in late January after banks received government guarantees on processing payments to Iran.
Japan loaded 15.3 million barrels of Iranian crude in the first three months of this year, equivalent to 86,430 barrels per day during the six-month exemption period, according to Reventiv and Reuters calculations.
This represents a 33 percent drop compared to an average of 129,300 barrels a day that Japanese companies received between January and September last year before the sanctions began to be implemented, according to Rev.
The drop is further than the 20 percent reduction in supplies reported by Washington from each country over the six-month grace period.
Japan has boosted imports from the Middle East, Russia, North America and South America as its imports of Iranian oil have declined, according to government data.
Japan's refiners are pressing the government to request an extension of the exemption from US sanctions after the end of the initial exemption period.
Japanese officials met with their US counterparts earlier this month in Washington to discuss US sanctions.
"I think the exemption may be extended, but perhaps less and to a smaller number of countries," said Takayuki Nogami, chief economist at Japan National Oil, Gas and Minerals Company.
"If the US government does not extend the exemption, oil prices may be pushed up a lot as the season of gasoline consumption approaches and that may damage Trump's reputation."
On Wednesday, Japan extended government-backed insurance to cover oil imports from Iran for another year.