South Korea, the world's fifth-largest crude importer, has ramped up U.S. oil imports, making the United States its No. 3 supplier - up from No. 6 in 2018 - while purchases from top suppliers Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have eased.
The move comes amid a halt on purchases of Iranian oil since May due to U.S. sanctions on Tehran and a push by U.S. President Donald Trump to reduce trade deficits with major trading partners. At the same time, analysts say U.S. oil has become more attractive as the shale boom has boosted the country's production.
South Korea's U.S. crude imports dipped 6% in December to nearly 1.7 million tonnes, or about 401,400 barrels per day (bpd), customs data showed, but were still up 8.5% from around 1.6 million tonnes in November.
For the full-year, U.S. crude imports rose 126% to 17.79 million tonnes, or 357,203 bpd, from just 7.87 million tonnes in 2018.
This compares with a 7.8% decline from top supplier Saudi Arabia to 40.21 million tonnes and a 7.1% decline from Kuwait.
Crude oil shipments from Saudi Arabia fell 17.6% in December to 2.72 million tonnes, or 644,096 bpd, while South Korea's total December crude imports eased 3.4% year-on-year to 11.95 million tonnes, or 2.83 million bpd.
South Korea's overall crude imports for 2019 fell 3.7% to 143.06 million tonnes of crude, or 2.87 million bpd.
For 2019, South Korea imported Iranian crude oil from January to April. Its imports of Iranian oil were 3.87 million tonnes, or 77,754 bpd, down 45.9% from 2018, the data showed.
The country's final crude oil imports data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC) is due to be released later this month.
By Jane Chung