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'Extremely difficult' for Japan refiners to resume Iran oil imports: PAJ

Tokyo — Japanese refiners will find it "extremely difficult" to resume imports of Iranian oil, following the US' announcement on Monday that it will end all waivers from Iranian oil sanctions due to expire May 2, Petroleum Association of Japan President Takashi Tsukioka said Thursday.

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"It was regrettable to see [Iranian oil imports] being subject to sanctions this time," Tsukioka told a press conference in Tokyo.

But Tsukioka said refiners were ensuring stable crude supply and had already started procuring alternative supplies to Iranian oil from loadings in April, including on a spot basis.

"It is a matter of how oil-producing countries respond,"Tsukioka said.

However, he added that imports of Iranian oil were important not only to Japan's supply source diversification but also because of the price advantage.

"Iranian crude oil has a price advantage, meaning the issue is not just substituting the barrels," Tsukioka said. "It we disregard the economic rationale and price advantage, supply should be no problem whatsoever."

Japan is among eight countries which received a 180-day waiver from the US sanctions on imports of Iranian oil at a significantly reduced volume until May 2.

Japan imported 135,013 b/d of Iranian oil in February, marking the first imports in four months, according to METI data.

Iran was the fifth-largest crude supplier to Japan in February, accounting for 4.4% of total imports of 3.09 million b/d.

Iranian Heavy crude accounted for 86.8% of the total Iranian oil imported in February, when Japan also took 249,139 barrels of Soroosh, marking the first imports of the grade since May 2016.

However, Japanese refiners completed their imports of Iranian oil by mid-April because of a lack of clarityover whether the US would extend the waivers.

-- Takeo Kumagai, takeo.kumagai@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jonathan Dart, newsdesk@spglobal.com