China Base Oil Imports Fall Again

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Base oil imports to China fell 15% in 2021, according to recently released government data, continuing a decrease in business for foreign suppliers during a surge in production capacity within the country.

As reported last week by the news website Sinolub, China imported 2.1 million metric tons of base oils last year, based on information from the central government’s General Administration of Customs. That marked the third consecutive year of decline. The number has fallen from 2.6 million tons in 2017.

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China is one of the world’s two largest finished lubricant markets – the other being the United States – and has long been one of the largest importers of base oils. The country’s domestic supply base has surged in recent years, however, from 8.4 million t/y in 2017 to 14 million t/y in 2021.

That capacity far exceeds domestic demand, and China exports scant amounts of base oil, so many base oil plants operate at significantly less than capacity. Domestic producers may be eating into the business of foreign suppliers, though.

South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have been the largest sources of imports in recent years, and China is an important market for refiners in all three countries. Japan, Thailand, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Russia have also exported base oils to China.

China consumed approximately 6.7 million tons of finished lubricants in 2020, according to estimates by German lube marketer Fuchs Petrolub SE.

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