SHANGHAI (AFX-ASIA) – China has overtaken Japan to become the world’s second largest consumer of crude oil after the US, the Financial Times reported.

The report cited International Energy Agency estimates showing that China consumed 5.46 million barrels a day last year, compared with Japan’s 5.43 million, and that China was the main driver behind global oil demand growth in the last quarter.

The country imported a record 91 million tonnes of crude oil last year, the report said, citing Chinese customs figures, an increase of 31% from the previous year.

China, which was a net exporter just a decade ago, is expected to be importing 10 million barrels a day by 2030 to meet more than 80% of demand, compared to 35% in 2000.

Chinese oil demand has surged as the government moves to dismantle the old command economy and expose the country to market forces under the obligations of its two year old membership of the World Trade Organisation.

The economy sailed past most government and private estimates last year to expand at 9.1%, and most expect GDP growth to stay above 8% this year.

The US remains by far the biggest oil user, consuming more than 20 million barrels a day, the report said.