The Middle East accounted for just 59.1% of South Korea’s crude imports in 1H 2021 whilst Opec countries accounted for 55.7%, both record lows. In absolute terms the respective figures of 1.52mn b/d for the Middle East and 1.44mn b/d for Opec are the lowest half-year figures in over two decades.

This comes as overall volumes for the world’s number four crude importer fell by 5.4% to average 2.58mn b/d for 1H 2021, the lowest first half figure since 2014. Whilst Korea’s oil demand continues to be suppressed by Covid – and movement restrictions have been increased in recent weeks with fears of a new ‘wave’ amid low vaccination rates – the country’s latest import data do show signs of recovery. Q2 imports, at 2.68mn b/d, were up 200,000 b/d on Q1 and 300,000 b/d on Q2 last year to post the highest quarterly figure since Q1 2020 (see table). Imports are still down 8% versus the last comparable pre-Covid figure for Q2 2019, however. This pattern – steady demand recovery, but still well down on 2019 levels – echoes that of Taiwan (MEES, 9 July). (CONTINUED - 506 WORDS)