South Korea may soon resume Iranian crude imports after having completely halted shipments in July because of a European Union ban on insuring tankers carrying oil from the Islamic Republic.
A resumption would suggest top Asian buyers of Iranian oil are finding ways to keep oil flowing in despite tough sanctions from the United States and Europe aimed at pressuring Tehran to abandon a disputed nuclear program.
Economy minister Hong Suk-woo said in a statement on Thursday it was "highly likely" South Korea would soon resume imports. The statement gave no details of when the imports may start and the volumes involved.
South Korea was the first major Asian consumer of Iranian crude to announce a halt in imports. The other three major importers -- China, South Korea and Japan -- have all slashed imports this year and have earned exemptions from U.S. sanctions for making the cuts.
Iran is set to arrest a slide in oil shipments in July as China increases imports to a record high to account for more than half of Tehran's crude exports, an industry report said.
Iranian supplies are expected to average 1.084 million barrels a day in July, little changed from 1.094 million bpd of exports in June, Geneva-based consultancy Petrologistics said in what it called a preliminary report.
China's crude oil imports from Iran rose to their highest in nearly a year in June despite the tough Western sanctions targeting Iran's oil shipments.
TROUBLES NOT OVER
Yet any revival in imports does not mean Iran's troubles are over. The Islamic Republic used to export about 2.3 million bpd of crude last year, which means shipments are down about 1.2 million bpd, worth an estimated $124 million a day, or about $45 billion a year.
South Korea imported just over 176,000 bpd of Iranian crude oil in June, down about a quarter from a year ago, as shipments wound down ahead of the EU ban.