China – for the first time – is world’s biggest LNG importer
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On the basis of final 2021 figures, China has taken over from Japan as the world’s biggest importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Japan increased LNG imports last year by 2 % (to 104.3 billion cu.m in regasified form), while China boosted imports by 16 % (to 106.3 billion cu.m.), according to Refinitiv data. And thus, China moved into first place world wide.

South Korea stood third in terms of imports, exhibiting strong growth of 16 % to 63.8 billion cu.m., while India reduced imports by 7 % (to 31.8 billion cu.m.).

    Europe also experienced a decline in LNG imports (by 6 % to 110.8 billion cu. m.). But volumes varied from quarter to quarter – in the first quarter, Europe slashed its imports by 28 % year-on-year (to 27.3 billion cu.m.) and recorded cuts of 7 % in the second quarter (to 30.7 billion cu.m.) and 13 % in the third quarter (to 19.9 billion cu.m.). But a rise of 36 % was recorded in the fourth quarter (to 33 billion cu.m.).

    The changed trend was linked to a great extent to an evening-out of a premium in Asian prices.

    In the first quarter, average spot prices in Asia stood at $10.20 for one million British thermal units (BTU), or 57 % higher than in Europe ($6.50 per million BTU). In the fourth quarter, the premium was only 10 % ($35.30 against $32.20 per million BTU). The process of evening-out prompted a sharp reduction in imports in Asia: In the first quarter China, Japan, South Korea and india increased LNG imports by 13 % (to 85.5 billion cu. m.), whereas in the second and third quarters, the increase was 14 % (to 70.4 billion cu.m.) and 11 % (to 74.3 billion cu.m.). In the fourth quarter, volumes decreased by 5 5 (to 70 billion cu.m.).

    Export trans-shipments of LNG in Russian ports increased by 1 %, from 30.1 million tonnes in 2020 to 30.3 million tonnes in 2021 (40.9 billion cu.m. and 41.2 billion cu.m in regasified form). The slight increase occurred despite planned maintenance over a month and a half at the Sakhalin Energy LNG plant. During that period, the far eastern port of Prigorodnoye received no shipments of LNG for export.

    The end-of-year results confirm a trend of further globalisation of gas markets – their dynamics depend increasingly on regional shifts in demand and price.

   Asia remains the market locomotive, particularly China, where demand for LPG in 2021 was more than three times greater than 2016 values (36.8 billion cu.m.)

    In Europe, LNG does away with temporary gas shortages – this was the case in the fourth quarter of 2021. At the beginning of that quarter European underground storage areas were filled only to 75 % capacity (compared to 95 % a year earlier, according data from Gas Infrastructure Europe).

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