Iraq boosts oil sales to China, U.S., India before OPEC supply cuts bite: sources

Fri Dec 16, 2016 6:09am EST
 
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By Florence Tan and Chen Aizhu

SINGAPORE/BEIJING (Reuters) - Iraq is selling more crude oil to its biggest customer, China's Unipec, people familiar with the matter say, digging a deeper foothold in the global supply market just before production cuts agreed with OPEC and other producers are scheduled to kick in.

With new deals with Indian and U.S. refiners also coming on stream, the expanded contract with the trading arm of Asia's largest refiner Sinopec (600028.SS: Quote) means Baghdad will have to reduce supply to other clients to honor its commitment to cut output by 210,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 2017.

Three people with knowledge of the matter said the Unipec contract was signed just before the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which Iraq is a member, agreed with other producers led by Russia to cut output by as much as 1.8 million bpd in an effort to reduce a global fuel supply overhang and prop up prices.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to media, the people said Iraq's Oil Marketing Company (SOMO) has boosted Basra crude forward export sales to Unipec by 3 percent to a total of 40 million-60 million barrels each quarter - 435,000-652,000 bpd - for 2017.

"If Iraq increases its sales to China while others have to cut back or just hold their volumes steady, Iraq will inevitably gain market share in what is arguably the most important oil market," said a trader who specializes in sending crude to China but is not allowed to speak publicly.

Iraq is OPEC's second-biggest producer behind Saudi Arabia and now ranks third among crude suppliers to China - after Russia and Saudi Arabia - having recorded a 15 percent year-on-year jump to about 723,000 bpd between January and October. [O/CHINA1]

As part of the expanded Chinese deal, one of the people said, Unipec is expected to load 2 million barrels of Basra Heavy crude every quarter.

"Basra is now an established grade with stable quality and reliable supplies," said another trader, who buys Iraqi crude but isn't authorized to speak to the media.   Continued...

 
A flame rises from a chimney at Taq Taq oil field in Arbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region, August 16, 2014.  REUTERS/Azad Lashkari/File Photo