The Trump administration has finally faced up to what many knew all along: It won’t be able to take Iran’s oil exports down to zero.
The U.S. is set to grant waivers to eight countries, allowing them to continue to import some level of oil from Iran, on the condition that they ratchet down their purchases in the months ahead. The full list of the countries will be released on Monday, but they will surely include China, India, South Korea and Japan, which are four of Iran’s top buyers.
“The reported awarding of waivers by the US for up to eight countries to continue buying Iranian oil, on the basis that they reduce volumes, shows that in the short term at least the Trump administration has set aside the goal of trying to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero,” Peter Kiernan, lead analyst of energy at the Economist Intelligence, said in a statement.
Convincing countries to zero out imports from Iran was always going to be tricky. On the one hand, even if the Trump administration had a free hand, it would be technically difficult to achieve. Iran continues to discount its crude, offer cargoes in barter deals, use currencies other than the U.S. dollar, and otherwise ship oil using a variety of furtive means. Iran was always going to be able to maintain some level of exports.
More importantly, however, the oil market is simply too tight to zero out Iranian supply. Notwithstanding the latest plunge in oil prices – down more than 15 percent in the past month – the market is still tight.
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