Russia and Saudi Arabia are vying for the top spot among crude oil suppliers to China, with Russia currently in the lead, but Saudi Arabia is doing its best to push ahead.

Analytic data cited by Reuters today shows that Russia exported an average of 1.7 million bpd of crude oil to China during the first 11 months of the year, with Saudi Arabia just a little bit behind, with an average export rate of between 1.6 million bpd and 1.7 million bpd.

The race continues as China has emerged as the only country in the world still thirsty for oil. An earlier report by Reuters this week said China had increased its imports of crude from Russia, the United States, and Angola over the past few weeks while elsewhere buyers are reducing their orders. What’s more, China’s imports are set to continue growing in 2021 as well, despite expectations of weak demand globally. According to the report, oil imports into China next year could hit 12 million bpd.

This year, after oil prices tanked because of the coronavirus pandemic, China’s crude oil imports shot up, reaching an all-time high of close to 13 million bpd in June. In the following two months imports declined but relatively moderately, with the average remaining above 11 million bpd.

Exports for the current quarter are seen still weaker than those in the third quarter because of filling up storage space and still low fuel demand. However, it is in this quarter that Saudi Arabia could outpace Russia as a top exporter: for most of the year, Russia has been shipping more oil to China, but in November, Saudi Arabia was ahead of Russia.

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“It looks like Russia has displaced Saudi Arabia to clinch the top spot this year,” one analyst from Vortexa told Reuters. “It is a neck-and-neck race and it remains to be seen as to who will be the ultimate winner.”

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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