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BEIJING/SINGAPORE: Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, beat Russia to keep its ranking as China’s top crude supplier in 2020, Chinese government data showed on Wednesday.

Oil demand in China, the world’s top oil importer, remained strong last year even as the coronavirus crisis hammered global appetite. Chinese imports rose 7.3% to a record of 542.4 million tonnes or 10.85 million barrels per day (bpd).

Saudi shipments to China in 2020 were rose 1.9% from a year earlier to 84.92 million tonnes, or about 1.69 million bpd, data from the General Administration of Chinese Customs showed.

Russia was a close second with shipments of 83.57 million tonnes, or 1.67 million bpd, up 7.6% from 2019, the data showed.

In December, Saudi supplies were 6.94 million tonnes, down 0.8% from the same month a year earlier, while Russian volumes fell 15.7% to 6.2 million tonnes.

China’s imports of US oil more than tripled in 2020 to 19.76 million tonnes, or 394,000 bpd, compared to a year earlier, as companies bought crude under a trade deal between Washington and Beijing. Imports were 3.6 million tonnes in December.

China’s total purchases of major US energy products, including crude, liquefied natural gas, propane, butane and coal, were worth $9.784 billion in 2020, about 38.7% of the $25.3 billion target set out in the Phase 1 trade deal.

Saudi Arabia has played catch up as a supplier since November by cutting prices to woo customers, overtaking Russia, which had led for most of 2020 with more flexible transport options and geographical proximity to Chinese refiners.

US sanctions nearly choked off oil exports from Iran and Venezuela, while Iraq was the main beneficiary. Iraq’s oil exports to China rose 16.1% to 60.12 million tonnes in 2020, making it China’s third largest oil supplier.

Cashing in on lower prices and with aggressive marketing to China’s independent refiners Brazil expanded oil exports to China to become its fourth biggest supplier last year.

Brazil’s oil exports to China rose 5.1% to 42.19 million tonnes.

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