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A dock worker wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) looks at an oil tanker unloading crude oil at a port in Qingdao, Shandong province, China March 26, 2020.

CHINA DAILY/Reuters

China’s crude oil imports in July surged 25 per cent from a year earlier, as massive purchases made while prices collapsed in April arrived and as some shipments delayed at ports in June finally cleared customs.

China, the world’s top crude oil importer, brought in 51.29 million tonnes of oil last month, equal to 12.08 million barrels per day (bpd), data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Friday.

That is higher than the 9.66 million bpd imported in July, 2019, but below a previous record of 12.94 million bpd set in June.

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Crude bought by Chinese bargain hunters in April, when oil prices plunged to multi-decade lows, arrived in China while inflows were also boosted as imports held up by congestion at Chinese ports were finally processed by customs.

The figures did not give a breakdown of country of origin. But Emma Li, an analyst from Refinitiv, estimated that about five million tonnes of U.S. crude oil had arrived in China in July – an all-time high on a monthly basis – and that about one million tonnes might spill over into August due to port congestion.

Record arrivals have strained port facilities since late May causing severe congestion at major ports including Qingdao, Rizhao and Zhoushan as tankers have queued for weeks to off-load the cargoes. Analysts and port officials say the congestion could run into this month.

China last month exported only 3.21 million tonnes of refined oil products, the lowest level since January, 2017.

That was lower than the 3.88 million tonnes exported in June and down 41.5per cent from July last year. The slowdown in exports comes even as refineries have been trying to pare back swelling fuel inventory after a record amount of fuel was produced in June.

Customs data also showed natural gas imports, both piped and liquefied natural gas (LNG), were 7.35 million tonnes in July, down 6.9 per cent from a year earlier.

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