March 7, 2019 11:15 AM, EST

Asia Remained Top US Oil Buyer in 2018 Despite China Trade Row

oilSimon Dawson/Bloomberg News

Asia more than doubled its intake of American crude oil last year even as Beijing and Washington were embroiled in a bitter trade war.

China passed on U.S. crude for much of the second half of last year amid a series of tit-for-tat tariff measures. Although crude was spared from this, Chinese purchases still plummeted. But robust buying from South Korea, one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, helped offset the loss. In December, the Asian country soaked up record volumes to overtake Canada as the largest buyer of U.S. crude. Indian purchases also climbed.

South Korea received over 85 million barrels of American oil last year, compared with just 20 million the year prior, according to U.S. Census Bureau data compiled by Bloomberg. That helped push U.S. crude shipments to Asia to nearly 340 million barrels, compared with about 150 million in 2017.


Despite the fact that China wasn’t in the market for U.S. barrels, Asian buying accelerated in the second half of the year, with 200 million barrels heading east. That compares with 140 million in the first half of 2018.

There are signs of a meaningful recovery in Chinese demand on the horizon, with more tankers hauling U.S. oil bound for China’s ports, according to ship tracking data. And Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump are pushing for an end to the trade dispute.