S.Korea, Taiwan, S.Africa cut Iranian oil imports

Thu Mar 22, 2012 3:01pm GMT

By Meeyoung Cho and Jeanny Kao

SEOUL (Reuters) - Major buyer South Korea cut imports of Iranian crude in the first two months of 2012, joining Taiwan and South Africa as the latest in a growing group of buyers bowing to international pressure on the Islamic Republic.

A quartet of China, India, Japan and South Korea are the four biggest buyers of Iranian crude in Asia and have either made a cut in imports or pledged to do so. Iran sells most of its 2.6 million barrels per day (bpd) of exports in Asia.

The United States on Tuesday exempted Japan and 10 EU nations from financial sanctions because they have significantly cut purchases of Iranian crude, but left out ally South Korea and Iran's top customers China and India.

India's oil refiners are expected to cut Iranian crude imports April in line with the reductions which secured Japan's waiver.

They plan to pay in rupees, but the failure of a delegation of Indian traders to Iran to clinch any commodities deals raised questions over the viability of a mechanism to pay for 45 percent of oil imports in rupees and increase exports to redress the trade imbalance.

South Korea's refiners were cutting imports to ensure the government could petition the U.S. for a sanctions waiver, a source at South Korea's economy ministry said on Thursday.

"South Korea is cooperating at a fundamental level with the U.S. regarding Iranian crude oil imports," the source said. "I think refiners are making efforts to help South Korea receive an exemption from the United States."

The world's fifth-largest oil importer, South Korea bought 15 percent less Iranian crude in the first two months of the year compared with the same period in 2011, even though overall crude imports increased by 3.4 percent on the year.   Continued...

Gas flares from an oil production platform, as an Iranian flag is seen in the foreground, at the Soroush oil fields in the Persian Gulf, some 1,250 km (776 miles) south of the capital Tehran in this July 25, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
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