Pakistan paid for its first government-to-government import of discounted Russian crude oil in Chinese currency, the South Asian country's petroleum minister said on June 12, a significant shift in its U.S. dollar-dominated export payments policy.
Discounted crude offers a respite as Pakistan faces an economic crisis with an acute balance of payments problem, risking a default on its external debt. The foreign exchange reserves held by the central bank are scarcely enough to cover a month of controlled imports.
The first cargo of discounted Russian crude oil arranged under a deal struck between Islamabad and Moscow earlier this year arrived in Karachi on June 11. It is currently being offloaded at the port in the southern city of Karachi.
Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik, speaking to Reuters by telephone, did not disclose the commercial details of the deal, including pricing or the discount that Pakistan received, but said, the "payment (was) made in RMB)".
He said the purchase, Pakistan's first government-to-government (G2G) deal with Russia, consisted of 100,000 tonnes, of which 45,000 tonnes had docked at Karachi port and the rest was on its way. Pakistan made the purchase back in April.
About its grade, he said, it is Urals, adding this is one of the lighter crudes available.
Pakistan's purchase gives Moscow a new outlet to add to growing sales to India and China, as it redirects oil from Western markets because of the Ukraine conflict.
China's Foreign Ministry said: "This is normal trade cooperation between Pakistan and Russia and within the scope of their sovereignty," in response to Reuters query.
"As a matter of principle, we are open to the settlement of crude oil trade in RMB," the ministry said.
Despite being a long-standing Western ally and the arch-rival of neighboring India, which historically is closer to Moscow, analysts say the crude deal also presents a new avenue for Pakistan at a time when its financing needs are great.
Islamabad earlier this month also outlined a process to open barter trade with Russia, Afghanistan and Iran, another sign of the South Asian economy seeking avenues to buy and sell commodities without trading in dollars, which analysts say could be a shift from West to East.
Pakistan's Refinery Limited (PRL) will initially refine the Russian crude, the minister said. He had earlier referred to the purchase of the shipment as a trial run to judge financial and technical feasibility, but said on June 12 that all the tests and trials had been done, which found that the Russian crude was fit to refine and market locally.
He played down concerns around the financial viability and the ability of local refineries to process Russian crude given Pakistan's historical importation of Middle Eastern petroleum products.
"We've run iterations of various product mixes, and in no scenario will the refining of this crude make a loss," Malik said, adding: "We are very sure it will be commercially viable."
It will be blended with around 60-70% Arabian light crude for refining, he said, adding, "No adjustments (were) needed at the refinery to refine the Russian crude."
Malik would not say how much difference the crude will have at the gas station price in the local market, saying, "It will surely make a difference."
Energy imports make up the majority of Pakistan's external payments. Islamabad imported 154,000 bpd of oil in 2022, around the same as the previous year, data from analytics firm Kpler showed.
"We're looking to target one-third of our total oil imports at the Russian crude," the minister said.
Crude was predominantly supplied by the world's top exporter Saudi Arabia followed by the United Arab Emirates.
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