China expected to overtake US to become world's largest oil importer

China expected to overtake US to become world's largest oil importer

China is expected to overtake the United States to become the world's largest oil importer in the 2020s as emerging economies, instead of developed ones, will claim most of the world's energy supplies, a report says.

China will be the main contributor to the increase in global energy use before 2020, and after then will be replaced by India as the world's biggest driving force for energy demand, the document says.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency report was released in Beijing on Wednesday.

China's crude oil imports for 2013 are estimated at 289 million metric tons, up 7.3 percent year-on-year, according to the China National Petroleum Corp Economics and Technology Research Institute in Beijing.

Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the IEA, said the global energy industry is developing to become a more efficient and low-carbon industry.

This is taking place as progress in technology along with high prices are helping to open up new resources, she said.

However, this does not mean the world is on the verge of an era of oil abundance, Van der Hoeven added.

At an international energy forum in Beijing, where the IEA report was released, Li Junfeng, head of the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, said that while the US, Europe, South America and Africa can achieve energy independence, only Asia will have difficulty in doing so, for a prolonged period.

The IEA report highlights the importance of energy efficiency, saying that two-thirds of the economic potential for energy efficiency is set to remain untapped by 2035.

Han Wenke, director of the Energy Research Institute at the National Development and Reform Commission, said China is "suffering" from overcapacity reduction, which is a "painful" process, but will raise its energy efficiency.

"When China determines to do something, it will keep its word and do it fast," he said.

The report said China will replace the US to become the world's largest oil consumer in 2030. Meanwhile, oil consumption in the Middle East will surpass that of the European Union.

The demand for oil in the transportation and petrochemical sectors will continue to rise.

By 2035, oil demand for transportation will have increased by 25 percent to 59 million barrels a day, with one-third of the consumption stemming from freight handling in Asia.

China, together with the Middle East and North America, will reach a total oil consumption of 14 million barrels a day in the petrochemical sector.

Chinese data show that the country depends on imports for about 59 percent of its crude oil demand.

A report by global energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie in August said that China will surpass the US to become the biggest crude oil importer by 2017. It said China will spend $500 billion a year on crude imports by 2020.

The IEA report says the US will achieve energy independence by 2035, which will greatly help its industrial competitiveness.

Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist, said,"Lower energy prices in the US mean that it is well-placed to reap an economic advantage, while higher costs for energy-intensive industries in Europe and Japan are set to be a heavy burden,"

Natural gas in the US is one third the import price of that in Europe and one-fifth of that in Japan.

Industry in China pays almost double that in the US for electricity. "The availability and affordability of energy is a critical element of economic well-being and competitiveness," the report states.

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