By Aaron Sheldrick TOKYO, Nov 30 (Reuters) – Asian imports of Iranian oil fell to the lowest level in two years in October, as Iran’s biggest crude buyers held off from increasing purchases following a landmark agreement on Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme in July.
Imports by Iran’s four biggest buyers – China, India, Japan and South Korea – came to 803,674 barrels per day (bpd) last month, the lowest since October 2013, and down 8.5% from a year ago, government and tanker-tracking data show.
Total imports by the top four Asian buyers have slumped this year since reaching a peak of 1.205 million bpd in May and had held steady at about 1.02 million bpd since July, the data showed.
Tehran is running out of time to meet President Hassan Rouhani’s target to have sanctions lifted by the end of the year. Rouhani is eager to recoup oil market share ceded under U.S. and European Union sanctions and boost the country’s battered economy after winning an election on a promise to restore ties with the West and an economic revival based on sanctions relief.
The sanctions were introduced to keep Iran’s exports at around 1 million bpd, down from 2.5 million bpd in 2011, and force Tehran to the negotiating table over its disputed nuclear activities. Western powers say the activity is a cover for building nuclear weapons, which Iran has consistently denied.
Under the accord reached in Vienna on July 14, Iran will be subject to longer-term restrictions on its nuclear programme in return for the removal of U.S., U.N. and European sanctions. Iran expects the nuclear agreement to be implemented at the start of next year, setting the stage for sanctions to be lifted, Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said last week.
Anticipating the lifting of sanctions, Iran held a conference for foreign energy companies on Saturday and offered them about 50 oil and gas projects for development.
For the first nine months of 2015, Asian buyers took in just over 1 million bpd, down 6.3 percent from a year earlier.
Japan’s purchases fell more than 6 percent in October from a year earlier to 152,851 bpd, trade ministry data showed on Monday.