LAUNCESTON, Australia, Jan 14 (Reuters) – China’s imports of major commodities ended last year with a bang, with strong gains showing the appetite of the world’s largest importer of natural resources remains robust despite the trade dispute with the United States.
The exception was coal, but December’s paltry imports of the polluting fuel were the result of cargoes not being cleared by customs in response to Beijing’s wishes to put a cap on purchases from overseas.
Once again the standout was crude oil, with December imports coming in at 10.78 million barrels per day (bpd), down slightly from November’s record 11.13 million bpd. The total for the year was 10.2 million bpd, up 9.5% from 2018 and the 17th straight year that annual imports have set a record high.
The increase in crude imports has been largely driven by the start up of two massive new refineries, with a combined capacity of 800,000 bpd, meaning that much of the increase last year was structural in nature.
However, it is also worth noting that storage flows into both commercial and strategic stockpiles were likely around 900,000 bpd, a strong figure that may not be repeated in 2020, especially if the strategic inventories are close to full.