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Could China target the U.S. crude trade?

In the trailing 12-month period ended Jan. 31, U.S. producers exported 2.3 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum products, up from 1.9 billion during the prior 12-month period. North American Free Trade Agreement partners Canada and Mexico imported the lion's share of that, 30% of total crude exports. Over that same period, exports to China grew to 171.3 million barrels from 76.5 million, making China the largest overseas importer of U.S. crude.

The oil trade has done much to improve the U.S. trade deficit with China and could be a target for new tariffs should the Trump administration carry through with its tough talk on trade between the two countries. Such a move could be a boon for OPEC countries that have lost share in Asia due to the increase in U.S. exports, while an oversupply in the U.S. could lead to a downturn in U.S. fuel prices.

The expanded and improved production of U.S. shale oil, which began in 2005, greatly increased U.S. capabilities and domestic oil supply, leading to the 40-year ban on oil exports being lifted in 2015. Since then, U.S. drillers have been pumping out oil regardless of prices, while OPEC has made attempts to manipulate production to prop up prices.