China has provisionally overtaken the U.S. as the world's largest net importer of oil, said the Financial Times on Tuesday, after the U.S. posted its lowest import figures since 1992 on the back of booming domestic oil production.
According to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. net oil imports dropped to 5.98m barrel per day in December, while China's own figures rose to 6.12 million bpd.
The U.S. has never lost its spot as the world's largest net importer of oil since the mid-1970s; and analysts are now predicting that Beijing will face increasing pressure to take a larger role in patrolling the world's key shipping lanes - as a reflection of their new status.
"The US is taking strides towards energy independence," said Eric G Lee, a commodities analyst at Citigroup who first reported the shift.
"This (geopolitical) crossover should be happening this year. This is a harbinger of things to come," he added, as cited by The Globe and Mail.
The shift between China and the U.S. also comes at a time when emerging countries are expected to consume more oil than industrialized nations, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA forecasts that non-OECD countries will consume 44.9 million bpd next quarter, compared with 44.7 million bpd for the OECD nations.
Meanwhile, America's dependence on foreign oil has declined each year since 2007. In 2010, the U.S. imported less than 50 percent of the oil it consumed, the first time this has happened in 13 years; and America is now producing more oil than any time in the past eight years, said a White House blog post.
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Citigroup's Lee expects a further drop in overseas light oil imports to the U.S. as increased North American pipeline capacity comes online, allowing more room for Canadian heavy oil and U.S. shale oil to reach the Gulf Coast later this year and in 2014.
"Heavy crude imports from the Middle East, Venezuela, Mexico and elsewhere could be hit," Lee added in his report.
At the same time, China's oil production capabilities are expected to rise during this period.Earlier this month, the IEA reported that China's spending spree on overseas oil assets could see its foreign oil production match those of OPEC nations including Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
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"China is set to become a major producing country outside of its borders. A significant part of the increased foreign production comes from [merger and acquitsition] transactions last year," said IEA chief economist Fatih Birol.
"As with many companies ... Chinese energy firms are also trying to secure production outside of their country," Birol added, noting that China could the biggest contribution to the growth in global energy over the next 30 years.