Japanese trade minister refutes reports of signing of emergency oil pact
Japan has not asked Saudi Arabia to supply more oil, the Japanese trade minister said on Sunday after media reports that he had flown to the world's largest oil exporter to sign an emergency supply pact.
Japan's Nikkei newspaper said last week that Toshimitsu Motegi would sign an agreement during a visit to Saudi Arabia to allow Tokyo to call for more oil in the event of emergency shortages.
Japan's reliance on oil imports has intensified since the shutdown of many nuclear power plants after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, but any deal to give Japan priority access to Saudi crude in the event of supply shortages would worry other oil importers.
Motegi met Saudi Deputy Oil Minister Abdul Aziz Bin Salman bin Abdulaziz in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
"At the moment, there is no concern whatsoever that Japan is under supplied in terms of oil," Motegi told journalists on Sunday when asked whether he had sought assurances that Riyadh would sell Japan more oil in the event of a supply crisis.
"It was not that we have asked for any specific request for increase of production or supply. It was just the confirmation of the relationship we have," he said through an interpreter in the United Arab Emirates. He gave no further details.
Crude imports from Saudi Arabia accounted for 31 percent of Japan's total in 2012, with shipments rising 5 percent from a year earlier to 1.14m barrels per day, partly offseting a 39.5 percent decline in Iranian crude imports due to sanctions.
State-run Saudi Aramco signed a deal with Japan in 2010 to store 3.8m barrels of crude in the Asian nation's Okinawa Oil Base for emergency supplies to the kingdom's customers in the region.
Saudi Arabia is the only country with enough spare oil production capacity to compensate for any significant global supply disruptions. If Japan were to secure priority access to it, that could concern other buyers.
Oil markets have been on edge because of tensions between the West and Iran over Tehran's nuclear programme, following disruptions in Libya in 2011 and attacks on oil facilities in Yemen.
OPEC heavyweight Saudi Arabia has repeatedly pledged to supply its customers with all the oil they need. With a stated capacity to produce up to 12.5m barrels per day (bpd), it could pump nearly 3.5m bpd more than it did last month.