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Tariffs on China's imports of US crude oil, LPG imminent

Singapore — The US on Wednesday announced that it would implement a 25% tariff on an additional $16 billion worth of Chinese imports from August 23, a move that could trigger a retaliatory action from Beijing, this time targeting US crude oil and LPG imports.

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"This second tranche of additional tariffs under Section 301 follows the first tranche of tariffs on approximately $34 billion of imports from China, which went into effect on July 6," the Office of the United States Trade Representative said in a statement early Wednesday.

The tariffs implemented on July 6 saw China retaliate by imposing a 25% tariff on $34 billion worth of US imports of food products, agricultural commodities such as soybean, and motor cars. China's Ministry of Commerce said then that it has been "forced to fight back."

Energy commodities including crude oil, LPG, naphtha and coal are on the list of the $16 billion worth of US products that China intends to target once the US imposes the next set of tariffs on Chinese products.

The anticipation of tariffs on US crude and LPG imports has already impacted import volumes and trade flows.

China's crude oil imports from the US fell sharply in July from June, and are expected to drop even further for August, S&P Global Platts reported earlier.

China received 14.65 million barrels of US crude in June, which was a historical high, but volumes more than halved to just 6.9 million barrels in July, according to Platts' vessel tracker cFlow. Arrivals in August are expected to shrink even more to around 6 million barrels.

The decline is reflected in changing trade patterns of oil tankers loaded with US crude headed to Asia and in the procurement activity of state-run Unipec, the trading arm of China Petroleum & Chemical Corp or Sinopec, the world's largest refiner by capacity.

Oil tankers laden with US crude that were initially headed to China appear to be getting diverted to other buyers, cFlow data showed.

Unipec had purchased nearly 16 million barrels of light sweet US crudes in June. These cargoes included the WTI Midland, Eagle Ford, Bakken and Domestic Sweet Blend grades, and were expected to be delivered to China over July-August.

A Sinopec refinery source said Wednesday that they are still receiving US crude oil in August, but do not expect any more supplies for the rest of 2018. Unipec declined to comment.

Chinese LPG buyers have also reduced their imports of US propane since March, and have been diverting some term volumes to other buyers in Northeast Asia, Platts reported earlier, citing market sources. The reduction intensified in July and August, sources said.

China was the third-largest importer of US propane in 2017, behind Japan and Mexico, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Possible tariff for key oil imports from US
Commodity Current tariff Mulled tariff
Crude oil 0% 25%
Naphtha 0% 25%
Propane 1% 26%
Butane 1% 26%
Source: China's Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council

China's key oil imports from US in Q1 2018
Commodity Vol from US ('000 mt) Value from US ( Mil $) Total Vol ('000 mt) Total Value (Mil $)
Crude oil 3,889 1,981 112,076 52,853
Naphtha 75 45 1,690 1,017
Propane 761 450 3,399 1,947
Butane 84 48 1,326 737
Source: China's General Administration of Customs

-- Mriganka Jaipuriyar, mriganka.jaipuriyar@spglobal.com

-- Oceana Zhou, oceana.zhou@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Norazlina Jumaat, norazlina.jumaat@spglobal.com