(Reuters) – India slashed imports of Iranian oil in January as New Delhi scrambled to bring its purchases from the OPEC member in line with 2013 levels, according to data obtained from trade sources and ship tracking data on the Thomson Reuters terminal.
India, Iran’s top client after China, took about 273,500 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude in January, a decline of 21.5 percent from the previous month, the data showed. The imports were about a third less than a year ago.
The cuts still leave India’s daily average volumes for the April-January period above sanction limits as Iran and world powers try to outline an agreement by March 31 to end Tehran’s isolation in return for curbs to its nuclear programme.
U.S. President Barack Obama said early this week that extending the March deadline would not be useful if Tehran has not agreed by then to a basic framework that assures world powers it is not pursuing nuclear arms. [ID:nL1N0VJ1QN]
The negotiators have set a June 30 final deadline for a full accord, and Western officials have said they aim to agree on the substance of that deal by the end of next month.
Sanctions on Iran were softened at end-2013 as discussions on a final resolution began, allowing Asian buyers of Iranian oil to maintain purchases at then-current levels.
India, with daily imports now running above those volumes, last month asked refiners to cut oil purchases from Iran to keep the shipments in line with the previous fiscal year’s levels of about 11 million tonnes or 220,000 bpd.
In the first 10 months of this fiscal year, though, India has taken about 10.6 million tonnes or 252,500 bpd, up a quarter from the same year-ago period, the data showed.
State-run Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd was the biggest Indian client of Iran in January followed by Essar Oil.
The two refiners are expecting to get another 392,000 tonnes, or 102,200 bpd, from Iran in February via three cargoes containing oil and condensate, data from trade sources shows.
That means India’s final intake from Iran for the year ending March 31 could come in close to the target of 11 million tonnes, unless March arrivals are higher than expected.
Indian Oil Corp, which is not a regular importer of Iranian oil, has rescheduled a shipment to March from February, a company source said.
It is not currently known if there are other cargoes scheduled for arrival next month.
This fiscal year so far Iran has accounted for 6.6 percent of India’s crude imports, compared with 5.3 percent a year ago. It is the seventh largest crude supplier in terms of volume, same as last year.
Overall, India imported 4.47 million bpd of oil in January up 21.3 percent from a year earlier.
Over April-January India took in 9 percent more oil from Latin America, while imports from the Middle East declined 6 percent. Imports from Africa rose 12 percent compared to the same period a year ago, the data showed.