For most of last year, Saudi Arabia—the largest oil exporter in the world—and its key partner in the OPEC+ deal, Russia, were head-to-head in a very close race for the top spot as the biggest crude oil supplier to China.
In the end, Saudi Arabia edged past Russia, shipping on average 1.69 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil to China, according to data from China’s General Administration of Customs cited by Reuters.
Saudi oil exports to China grew by 1.9 percent year over year in 2020.
Russia’s exports saw larger growth last year than the rise in Saudi exports, 7.6 percent compared to 2019. Yet, the total average volume of Russian oil sales to China stood at 1.67 million bpd, just around 20,000 bpd on average lower than the Saudi shipments, according to Reuters estimates of the Chinese customs data in tons.
This means that Saudi Arabia was the top supplier to China for a second year in a row, after clinching the top spot from Russia in 2019. In that year, Saudi Arabia significantly raised its crude sales to the world’s largest oil importer, boosting its exports to China by 47 percent and beating Russia for the top Chinese supplier spot for the first time in four years.
In 2020, Iraq was the third-biggest supplier of crude oil to China, while Brazil was fourth, capitalising on the buying binge of Chinese refiners in the spring and summer when oil prices were at multi-year lows.
Also of note in 2020, China more than tripled its crude oil imports from the United States to 394,000 bpd, after refiners accelerated US crude purchases in the latter part of the year as part of the US-China trade deal. Despite the higher US crude oil shipments, China’s total purchases of American energy products were just 38.7 percent of the $25.3 billion target in the deal, according to Reuters estimates.