India’s middle eastern crude oil imports slump to 4-year low; government seeks other sources

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India’s imports of Middle Eastern oil plunged to a four-year low in 2019, tanker data obtained from sources shows, as the energy-hungry nation diversifies its supplies to cut costs and help shield itself from geopolitical tensions, reports Reuters.

India, the world’s third-biggest oil consumer, imports about 84 per cent of its oil needs and traditionally relies on the Middle East for the majority of its supplies. However, the region’s share of India’s crude shrank to 60 per cent last year – down from 65 per cent a year ago and the lowest since 2015 – as record output from the United States and countries like Russia offered opportunities for importers to tap other sources.

India shipped in 2.68 million barrels per day (bpd) oil from the Middle East in 2019, down about 10 per cent from 2018, and around 1.8 million bpd from elsewhere, the data reviewed by Reuters showed. Deeper than expected oil output cuts by OPEC and allies, shouldered by Saudi Arabia, and less supply from Iran due to U.S. sanctions also dented India’s intake of Middle Eastern oil.

Last year, sanctions and output cuts by OPEC and allies, known as OPEC+, reduced the group’s supplies by 1.9 million bpd from 2018, while non-OPEC supply rose by 2 million bpd, the International Energy Agency said in its latest report.

The IEA forecast that producers outside the OPEC+ pact would grow supplies by 2.1 million bpd in 2020. India is working on a strategy to diversify its oil supply sources to cut dependence on the Middle East, Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said last week, adding that some refiners are in advance negotiations to boost Russian oil imports.

The drive to expand crude sources also reflects a push by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bolster ties with countries like Russia and the United States. India’s overall oil imports in 2019 fell by about 2.1 per cent to 4.48 million bpd, because most refiners temporarily shut processing units for upgrades ahead of new fuel standards in 2020. India is migrating to Euro VI compliant fuel from April 1, 2020.

Shekhar Ghosh is consulting editor, Indoasiancommodities.com. He has edited and written for publications like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today, Outlook and many other international publications. He can be reached at shekhar.ghosh@indoasiancommodities.in.

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