Colombo expects 10% drop in its Iran crude buys

Gulf Times | Published on February 25, 2012 at 8:59 am

Sri Lanka expects crude imports from Iran to drop by at least 10% this year due to a range of inflation-fighting policies that should cool demand, potentially helping it find a way around US sanctions, a government official said yesterday.

ranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) meets with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, September 21, 2011.

The Indian Ocean island nation is facing one of the biggest squeezes from the impending sanctions, despite being a small player in the world crude market, since its sole refinery can only process Iranian crude and a handful of others.

In the last month, Sri Lanka has increased interest rates for the first time since 2007 to avert a looming balance-of-payments crisis, raised state-controlled fuel prices by as much as 37%, and stopped defending the rupee currency.

“We’re quite confident there will be a reduction in the quantity of oil we purchase because of our new policies,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“Our own view is that it will reduce by at least 10%, and that will satisfy both parties,” the official said. He expected the 10% reduction would be year-on-year.

That could give Sri Lanka some leverage to argue it has reduced ties with Iran, and followed in the footsteps of India, China and Japan, the official said.

All three plan cuts of 10% or more, and South Korea is in talks to trimming ties with Tehran. The United States has said that is a precursor to any waiver from the sanctions, which would lock violators out of the US financial system.

Colombo has so far said it is not seeking a waiver from US sanctions, which in terms of domestic politics, would be the most costly option for President Mahinda Rajapakse.

The Rajapakse administration has blasted Washington for its insistence on accounting for war crimes allegations and making political concessions to minorities after the end of a three-decade civil war in 2009.

So far, Sri Lanka’s policy response has been to seek cargoes from Oman and Saudi Arabia to offset its huge reliance on Iran, which supplied 93% of the crude oil last year to its only refinery, the aging 50,000 barrels-per-day Sapugaskanda plant.

“We are getting ready to face the situation in future by increasing the Arabian Light crude oil quantity and through other alternatives,” Petroleum Industries Minister Susil Premajayantha told parliament this week.

The government has mulled using a currency other than dollars to settle its crude bill, like India.

“We are still trying to understand if we could have a scheme which is not going to be too controversial. But we are looking at different options, which still don’t include barter,” the government official told Reuters.

Sri Lanka’s government, reliant on export revenues, is reluctant to upset trade with Washington or Tehran. The United States is the Indian Ocean nation’s largest trading partner, while Iran is its fourth-biggest. The United States accounted for a fifth of Sri Lanka’s $10.5bn in export revenue in 2011, according to provisional government data. Iran brought in $180mn.

There has been speculation Sri Lanka might try to trade tea for oil, but the roughly $130mn it earned last year from tea sales to Iran would barely cover two months of its $1.3bn Iranian crude bill in 2011.

Last year, it also spent $100mn on Saudi crude and the rest of its $4.6bn oil bill on refined products.

Gulf Times

 

 


1 Comment to “Colombo expects 10% drop in its Iran crude buys”

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ranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) meets with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, September 21, 2011.

Colombo expects 10% drop in its Iran crude buys

Sri Lanka expects crude imports from Iran to drop by at least 10% this year due to a range of inflation-fighting policies that should cool ...