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China's Trade With Iran Declines By Close To 40 Percent in 2019

Vice president of Iran (left) Es'hagh Jahangiri shakes hands with the head of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China, Son Tao on July 29, 2019.

The latest figures published by China’s customs show trade with Iran in October dropped to its lowest level in a decade.

During the month of October, total trade with Iran was $1.38 billion, which is 38 percent less than in October 2018.

From January to October exports to Iran decreased by 39 percent compared with the same period last year, reaching a low of $7.8 billion, while imports from Iran dropped 36 percent to $11.7 billion.

China is Iran’s biggest oil buyer and prior to U.S. sanctions it was importing more than 650,000 barrels of crude per day. China’s customs figures show that in recent months this volume has declined to an average of 140,000 barrels.

After the United States withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement in May 2018, President Donald Trump imposed partial sanctions on Iran’s oil a year ago. In May, the sanctions expanded to a total ban on buying Iranian oil and almost all countries have complied. China and Syria are the only official destinations for a limited quantity of Iranian crude.

However, China appears not to be paying cash for the small amount of oil it imports. Some of the crude is stored in Chinese facilities, while the rest goes to pay Iranian debts to Chinese companies that had invested in Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Iran has been trying hard to convince China to keep trade up with Iran, but both the Chinese government and big companies are reluctant to violate U.S. sanctions.

It is not clear if Syria is paying anything for the oil it receives from Iran, which has been backing Bashar Assad since 2010 when civil strife and then a full-fledged war began in that country.

Some Iranian refined oil products are also being smuggled to neighboring countries