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China's 2023 low-sulfur marine fuel exports up 3% from 2022

(Reuters) - China's exports of low-sulfur marine fuels last year rose 3.2% from 2022, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Saturday.

The rise in exports tracked continued growth in refueling demand at China's largest bunker port Zhoushan, while overall bunkering activity also picked up in Asia.

Exports of the marine fuel, or very low-sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO), were 18.63 million metric tons, the customs data showed. The VLSFO has a maximum sulfur content of 0.5% to comply with emission rules set by the International Maritime Organization.

That compared with 18 million tons in 2022, when China's COVID lockdowns hampered its broader economic activity and trade.

The uptick in China's annual VLSFO exports, measured mostly by sales from bonded storage for vessels plying international routes, was in line with higher volumes at Asia's top bunker hub Singapore, which posted record-high sales in 2023.

Volumes at China's largest bunker port Zhoushan rose to a record high in 2023 of 7.04 million tons, a notice from the Zhoushan Marine Fuel Association said on Jan. 2.

Zhoushan's growth suggests that it is poised to replace Fujairah in the UAE as the world's third-largest bunker port, industry sources have said.


China's total fuel oil imports rose 83.5% to a decade high of 22.44 million tons in 2023, the customs and historical data showed.

In 2023, independent refineries boosted purchases of fuel oil to use as low-cost feedstock, particularly discounted oil blended from Russian barrels.

Government inspections that curbed demand for bitumen blend and an additional 3 million tons of fuel oil import quotas in late November also buoyed purchases.

The import volumes included purchases under ordinary trade, which are subject to import duty and consumption tax, as well as imports into bonded storage.

The table below shows China's fuel oil exports and imports in metric tons. The exports section largely captures China's low sulfur oil bunkering sales along its coast.

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