Iran slips record volume of oil into China, reaches out to Asian clients for trade continuation

Iran has quietly moved record amounts of crude oil to top client China in recent months, while India’s state refiners have added Iranian oil to their annual import plans on the assumption that U.S. sanctions on the OPEC supplier will soon ease, according to six industry sources and Refinitiv data.

U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to revive talks with Iran on a nuclear deal abandoned by former President Donald Trump in 2018, although harsh economic measures remain in place that Tehran insists be lifted before negotiations resume.

The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) has started reaching out to customers across Asia since Biden took office to assess potential demand for its crude, said the sources, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The sanctions caused a precipitous drop in Iranian exports to China, India, Japan and South Korea since late 2018. Those measures, and output cuts by fellow OPEC+ producers, have led to tight supplies of Middle East sour crude in Asia, the top global oil market. Asia imports more than half of its crude from the Middle East.

“They talked to us. They said: ‘very soon they hope to resume oil supplies.’ We said: ‘Inshallah’,” said one source at an Indian refiner. “Inshallah” is an Arabic term that means “God willing,” used to express that the speaker hopes something will happen.