China’s 2023 crude oil imports hit record as fuel demand recovers

(Reuters) – China’s crude oil imports in 2023 hit an all-time high for a year, customs data showed on Friday, as fuel demand recovered from a pandemic-induced slump despite economic headwinds.

China imported 11% more crude oil last year versus 2022 at 563.99 million metric tons, equivalent to 11.28 million barrels per day (bpd), up from a previous record of 10.81 million bpd in 2020, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

Imports in December totalled 48.36 million tons, or 11.39 million bpd, up from November’s 10.33 million bpd.

Domestic passenger transport levels increased steadily through 2023 following the country’s abrupt exit from pandemic restrictions in November 2022.

China’s highway traffic for 2023 jumped 43.6% from the previous year in passenger kilometres for the January to November period, according to Ministry of Transport data.

Domestic air traffic also recovered rapidly, rising 27% on the previous year to reach a new record in December, according to data from aviation analytics firm OAG. International travel saw a more muted recovery, with December flight volumes still down 39% on the same month in 2019, shortly before borders were closed.

Domestic diesel demand was weaker amid an ongoing slowdown in the construction sector and an uncertain outlook for the manufacturing sector.

Friday’s data also showed China’s natural gas imports, comprising both liquefied natural gas (LNG) and piped gas, rose 9.9% to reach 119.97 million tons in 2023. That’s the second highest on record after 2021, when China imported 121.4 million tons.

Imports in December at 12.65 million tons hit a record monthly high, up from November’s 10.95 million tons.

(metric ton = 7.3 barrels for crude oil conversion)

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(Reporting by Andrew Hayley and Chen Aizhu; Editing by Sonali Paul)