By Florence Tan and Marianna Parraga
SINGAPORE/HOUSTON (Reuters) - Asia would be the biggest beneficiary of any potential sanctions by the United States on Venezuela's oil sector, said traders and analysts, as exports from the South American OPEC member could be redirected to the region, filling a vacuum left by producer supply cuts.
Washington is considering sanctions on Venezuela's oil industry in response to the ruling Socialist Party's crackdown on officials and parties opposed to the government. An embargo against Venezuelan crude could block imports of about 740,000 barrels per day to the U.S.
Asian refiners would welcome the so-called heavy, or higher density, crude since production cuts by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have mainly curtailed this type of oil. At the same time, the start-up of new refining capacity is boosting demand.
China and India, the two biggest buyers of Venezuelan crude after the United States, have room to increase imports while other north Asian refiners, with equipment sophisticated enough to handle heavy Venezuelan oil, are seeking opportunities to tap this supply, analysts and traders said.
"Whatever oil that the United States doesn't want will find its way into the global market," a trader with a north Asian refiner said, adding that Venezuelan oil could be a good fit for the company's plant.
A trader with another north Asian refiner said he is also looking for opportunities to import Venezuelan crude if the U.S. imposes sanctions. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Venezuela's main creditors China and Russia will have first priority to its oil if sanctions are imposed, the sources and analysts said, and the countries would likely make the surplus cargoes available in the spot market.
In the first quarter of 2017, Venezuela delivered to Chinese companies about 485,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude and oil products to repay loans extended since 2007, according to internal documents from state-run oil company PDVSA reviewed by Reuters.
Russian oil firms Rosneft <ROSN.MM> and Lukoil <LKOH.MM> are also receiving about 250,000 bpd to repay loans, according to the PDVSA reports.
PDVSA has cut sales to U.S. refining unit Citgo Petroleum since May to increase its supply to Rosneft in order to catch up on overdue Russian deliveries.
Rosneft may ship Venezuelan crude to its newly acquired Essar Oil refinery in India, said one trader based in Asia who deals with Venezuelan crude, adding any surplus could be re-sold by Russian companies to other Asian buyers.
"The realignment of trade flows to push Venezuelan crude to Asia...would entail substantial logistical challenges that would on the margin be bullish (for) sour crude markets, but not necessarily sustainably bullish (for) crude prices," RBC Capital analyst Mike Tran wrote in a note last month.
(Reporting by Florence Tan in SINGAPORE and Marianna Parraga in HOUSTON; Additional reporting by Chen Aizhu in BEIJING and Andrew Cawthorne in CARACAS; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)