Japan will take time to phase out Russian oil imports – PM Kishida

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a speech at the Guildhall in London, Britain May 5, 2022. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

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TOKYO, May 9 (Reuters) – Japan will be slow to phase out Russian oil imports after agreeing a ban with other Group of Seven (G7) countries to counter Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine , Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday.

G7 nations pledged to act in a “timely and orderly manner” in an online meeting on Sunday to put additional pressure on President Vladimir Putin, though members such as resource-poor Japan are heavily dependent Russian fuel. Read more

“For a country heavily dependent on energy imports, this is a very difficult decision. But G7 coordination is more important at a time like now,” Kishida told reporters, repeating comments he made during of the G7 meeting.

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“As for when to reduce or stop (Russian) oil imports, we will consider it while assessing the actual situation,” he said. “We will take our time to take steps towards a gradual elimination.” He did not specify.

No ships have loaded Russian oil for Japan since mid-April, according to Refinitiv data. About 1.9 million barrels were exported from Russia to Japan in April, down 33% from the same month a year ago.

The Ukraine crisis has highlighted Japan’s energy dependence on Russia even as Tokyo moved quickly and in tandem with the G7 in instituting sanctions.

The latest ban marks a shift in Japanese policy. Japan said it would be difficult to immediately cut Russian oil imports, which accounted for about 33 million barrels of Japan’s total oil imports, or 4%, for 2021. read more

He has already said he will ban imports of Russian coal in stages, leaving only liquefied natural gas (LNG). Japan has been in a particularly difficult situation since shutting down most of its nuclear reactors following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

Last year, Russia was Japan’s fifth-largest supplier of crude oil and LNG.

The Japanese government and companies hold stakes in oil and LNG projects in Russia, including two on the island of Sakhalin whose partners Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) and Shell PLC (SHEL.L) have announced their departure.

Yet Japan’s biggest oil refiner Eneos Holdings Inc (5020.T) has already stopped buying Russian crude, saying it will source from the Middle East. Read more

On Friday, trading firm Marubeni Corp (8002.T) said it wanted to pull out of the Sakhalin-1 oil project but was maintaining its stake in line with government policy. Read more

Kishida said on Monday there was no change in the government’s policy of maintaining commercial interests in Russia’s various energy assets.

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Reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto and Yuka Obayashi; written by Leika Kihara and David Dolan; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Himani Sarkar

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