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China May oil imports from Russia soar to a record, surpass top supplier Saudi

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Oil and gas tanks are seen at an oil warehouse at a port in Zhuhai, China October 22, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

By Chen Aizhu

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -China’s crude oil imports from Russia soared 55% from a year earlier to a record level in May, displacing Saudi Arabia as the top supplier, as refiners cashed in on discounted supplies amid sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Imports of Russian oil, including supplies pumped via the East Siberia Pacific Ocean pipeline and seaborne shipments from Russia’s European and Far Eastern ports, totalled nearly 8.42 million tonnes, according to data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs.

That’s equivalent to roughly 1.98 million barrels per day (bpd) and up a quarter from 1.59 million bpd in April.

The data, which shows that Russia took back the top ranking of suppliers to the world’s biggest crude oil importer after a gap of 19 months, indicates that Moscow is able to find buyers for its oil despite western sanctions, though it has had to slash prices.

And while China’s overall crude oil demand has been dampened by COVID-19 curbs and a slowing economy, leading importers, including refining giant Sinopec (NYSE:SHI) and trader Zhenhua Oil, have stepped up buying cheaper Russian oil on top of sanctioned supplies from Iran and Venezuela that allows them to scale back competing supplies from West Africa and Brazil.

Saudi Arabia trailed as the second-largest supplier, with May volumes up 9% on year at 7.82 million tonnes, or 1.84 million bpd. This was down from April’s 2.17 million bpd.

Customs data released on Monday also showed China imported 260,000 tonnes of Iranian crude oil last month, its third shipment of Iran oil since last December, confirming an earlier Reuters report.

Despite U.S. sanctions on Iran, China has kept taking Iranian oil, usually passed off as supplies from other countries. The import levels are roughly equivalent to 7% of China’s total crude oil imports.

China’s overall crude oil imports rose nearly 12% in May from a low base a year earlier to 10.8 million bpd, versus the 2021 average of 10.3 million bpd.

Customs reported zero imports from Venezuela. State oil firms have shunned purchases since late 2019 for fear of falling foul of secondary U.S. sanctions.

Imports from Malaysia, often used as a transfer point in the last two years for oil originating from Iran and Venezuela, amounted to 2.2 million tonnes, steady versus April but more than double the year-earlier level.

Imports from Brazil fell 19% from a year earlier to 2.2 million tonnes, as supplies from the Latin American exporter faced cheaper competition from Iranian and Russian barrels.

Separately, data also showed China’s imports of Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG) amounted to nearly 400,000 tonnes last month, 56% more than May of 2021.

For the first five months, imports of Russian LNG – from mostly Sakhalin-2 project in the Far East and Yamal LNG in Russian Arctic – rose 22% on the year to 1.84 million tonnes, according to customs data.

Below is the detailed breakdown of oil imports, with volumes in million tonnes:

month y/y pct ytd y/r pct

change change

Saudi 7.82 8.7 38.22 4.5

Russia 8.42 55 34.02 2.5

5

Iraq 4.687 4.5 23.54 4.1

Angola 3.148 -3.6 14.84 8.7

Brazil 2.209 -19 10.99 -5.9

6

United 0.516 -52 3.784 -44

States

Malaysia 2.2 112 8.42 36

Iran 0.26 — 0.52 —

Venezuela 0 — 0 —

Oman 3.977 -4 18.96 -0.8

UAE 4.09 68.7 16.31 30

(tonne = 7.3 barrels for crude oil conversion)

Commodities

U.S. hostage envoy visits Venezuela in bid to free jailed Americans-sources

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (not pictured) after Iran delivered to Venezuela the second of four Aframax-sized oil tankers, with a capacity of 800,000 barrels, ordered from th

By Vivian Sequera and Matt Spetalnick

CARACAS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden’s chief hostage negotiator led a U.S. delegation on a visit to Caracas on Monday in the latest bid to secure the release of Americans detained in Venezuela, according to a U.S. official and other sources familiar with the matter.

A previous trip in March by Roger Carstens, U.S. special envoy for hostage affairs, and other senior U.S. officials led to the freeing of two jailed Americans. But at least eight U.S. prisoners remain.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro disclosed Monday’s visit during televised remarks, saying U.S. officials met with the head of the government-controlled congress, Jorge Rodriguez, to continue talks that began in March. He did not provide details.

Sources familiar with the matter said the agenda for Monday’s talks was limited to humanitarian issues and did not include the OPEC nation’s oil sector, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2019. The meetings included Ambassador James Story, head of the U.S. government’s Venezuelan Affairs Unit based in neighboring Colombia.

In March, a high-level delegation from the United States met with Maduro, and easing U.S. sanctions was among the topics discussed, although no agreement was reached at the time.

That visit marked the highest-level U.S. talks with Caracas in years, and Venezuela soon freed a former executive of Citgo Petroleum, a U.S.-based unit of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, and a Cuban American and also promised to resume talks in Mexico with the Venezuelan opposition.

Maduro has yet to agree on a date to return to the negotiating table.

Five other Citgo executives are still held in Venezuela.

Also in custody is Matthew Heath, a Marine veteran arrested in 2020 on charges of terrorism and arms trafficking. Heath, who has denied the charges, remains in a Venezuelan hospital after what his lawyer said was an attempted suicide by cutting his own arm last week.

“After he attempted suicide, Matthew’s family made a plea to Presidents Biden and Maduro to act decisively to arrange an emergency medical evacuation to the United States so that Matthew can get the specialized care he needs,” Jonathan Franks, spokesperson for Heath’s family, said in a statement.

He called Carstens’ reported trip “an encouraging sign.”

U.S. officials said Heath was not sent by Washington and have accused Venezuelan authorities of holding him illegally.

Two other Americans still detained are former U.S. special forces members, Luke Denman and Airan Berry, who were arrested in 2020 in connection with a botched raid aimed at ousting Maduro.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said the latest Caracas visit was “for discussions about the welfare and safety of U.S. nationals in Venezuela.”

A U.S. government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the main objective was to seek further prisoner releases.

The State Department official did not immediately respond to a query on whether any Americans were expected to be freed during the visit.

The U.S. delegation also met with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido. Washington recognizes him as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president, having rejected Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham.

March’s delegation was led by Biden’s top Latin America adviser Juan Gonzalez, and also included Carstens and Story, U.S. ambassador to Venezuela who is based in Bogota.

That meeting took place at a time when Washington was looking to fill the void that would soon be left by a U.S. ban on Russia’s energy imports over its invasion of Ukraine.

Since the March visit, the Biden administration has taken a few steps to slightly soften its Venezuela policy.

Republican lawmakers and some of Biden’s fellow Democrats have criticized the U.S. approach to Venezuela as too conciliatory toward Maduro and his Socialist government.

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Commodities

U.S. hostage envoy visits Venezuela for talks about jailed Americans-official

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (not pictured) after Iran delivered to Venezuela the second of four Aframax-sized oil tankers, with a capacity of 800,000 barrels, ordered from th

By Vivian Sequera and Matt Spetalnick

CARACAS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. hostage affairs envoy Roger Carstens and U.S. Ambassador James Story traveled to Caracas on Monday for talks with Venezuelan officials about American citizens held there, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said.

A previous visit by Carstens in March as part of a high-level U.S. delegation led to the release of two detained Americans, but at least eight U.S. prisoners remain.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro disclosed Monday’s visit, saying U.S. officials met with the head of the government-controlled congress, Jorge Rodriguez, to continue talks that began in March. But he did not provide details.

Sources familiar with the matter said the agenda for Monday’s talks was limited to humanitarian issues and did not include the country’s oil, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2019.

In March, a high-level delegation from the United States met with Maduro at the government palace, and easing U.S. sanctions was among the topics discussed, although no agreement was reached at the time.

That visit marked the highest-level U.S. talks with Caracas in years, and Venezuela soon freed a former Citgo executive and a Cuban American and also promised to resume election talks in Mexico with the opposition.

Maduro has yet to agree on a date to return to the negotiating table.

Five other Citgo executives are still held in Venezuela.

Also in custody is Matthew Heath, a Marine veteran charged with terrorism and arms trafficking. Heath, who has denied the charges, remains in a Venezuelan hospital after what his lawyer said was an attempted suicide by cutting his own arm last week.

U.S. officials said Heath was not sent by Washington and have accused Venezuelan authorities of holding him illegally.

Two other Americans still detained are former U.S. special forces members, Luke Denman and Airan Berry, who were arrested in 2020 in connection with a botched raid aimed at ousting Maduro.

The State Department spokesperson said the latest Caracas visit was “for discussions about the welfare and safety of U.S. nationals in Venezuela.” The official did not immediately respond to a query on whether any Americans were expected to be freed during the latest visit.

The U.S. delegation also met with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido. Washington recognizes him as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president, having rejected Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham.

March’s delegation was led by U.S. President Joe Biden’s top Latin America adviser Juan Gonzalez, and also included Carstens and Story, U.S. ambassador to Venezuela who is based in Bogota in neighboring Colombia.

That meeting took place at a time when Washington was looking to fill the void that would soon be left by a U.S. ban on Russia’s energy imports over its invasion of Ukraine.

Republican lawmakers and some of Biden’s fellow Democrats who oppose any softening of U.S. policy toward Maduro blasted the U.S. approach to Venezuela as too one-sided.

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Commodities

Venezuelan officials meet US delegation, Maduro says

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (not pictured) after Iran delivered to Venezuela the second of four Aframax-sized oil tankers, with a capacity of 800,000 barrels, ordered from th

(Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday that the country’s head of congress met a United States delegation to continue talks that began in March without disclosing the topics.

The Venezuelan president did not give any details on the U.S. officials who arrived in Caracas, nor the issues they discussed with the head of parliament, Jorge Rodriguez.

In March, a high-level delegation from the United States met with Maduro at the government palace, and easing sanctions was among the topics discussed, although no agreement was reached then.

The March visit led to the release of two Americans held in Venezuela but others remain jailed there.

March’s delegation was led by the director of the U.S. National Security Council for the Western Hemisphere, Juan Gonzalez, and U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela James Story, according to people familiar with the visit. Story is based in Bogota in neighboring Colombia, according to the State Department.

The White House National Security Council and U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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