BEIJING (AFP) - China is set to overtake the United States to become the world's largest net oil importer from October, according to US figures.
Next year, China's net oil imports will exceed those of the United States on an annual basis and the gap between them will continue to widen, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said.
China is already the biggest energy user in the world and the second-largest oil consumer after the United States.
The shift has been driven by steady growth in Chinese demand, increased oil production in the United States, and stagnant or weakening demand in the US market, the EIA said in a report.
A graph on the EIA's website shows China's net imports steadily rising, with those of the US falling at a faster rate, and says the crossover point comes in two months' time.
US annual oil output is expected to rise 28 per cent between 2011 and 2014 to nearly 13 million barrels per day, while Chinese production is forecast to grow by six per cent over the period, and will stand at just a third of US production in 2014, the EIA said.
Meanwhile, China's liquid fuels use will increase 13 per cent over the period to more than 11 million barrels per day while US demand hovers close to 18.7 million barrels per day.
That is below the US's peak consumption level of 20.8 million barrels per day in 2005, the EIA added.
China imported 26.11 million tonnes of crude oil last month and its exports were a mere 0.17 million tonnes, according to official Beijing figures.
The Asian country's ascendence to the top of the world's net oil import rankings will have profound impact, an article carried by the China Business News said on Monday.
"China and the US will no longer be pure competitors in the energy sector - China is likely to import energy in bulk from the US," wrote commentator Li Dongchao.
"The (rising) independence of US energy will support the rejuvenation of US manufacturing, which will renew competition with Chinese manufacturing," Mr Li said.
"Improving the safety and operational efficiency of the energy industry is a must for ensuring China's energy and economic security."