GIIGNL: Global LNG trade flat in 2020 amid pandemic

July 19, 2021

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that reduced global natural gas demand, global LNG trade in 2020 was basically flat with the 2019 level, with an average of 46.9 bcfd, compared to 46.7 bcfd in 2019, according to International LNG Importers Group (GIIGNL)’s 2021 annual report.

Between 2015 and 2019, global LNG trade expanded by 45%, posting record growth in both 2018 and 2019, the report said. This expansion primarily resulted from liquefaction capacity additions in Australia, the US, and Russia, which combined accounted for more than 90% of the global growth in liquefaction capacity during this period.

Top LNG exporters

In 2020, LNG exports increased from only two countries—the US by 1.5 bcfd and Australia by 0.3 bcfd—compared with 2019. Last year, the US commissioned several new liquefaction units (trains), namely the third and final trains at Cameron LNG, Freeport LNG, and Corpus Christi LNG, as well as the remaining trains at Elba Island LNG.

With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns in many LNG-consuming countries, US LNG exports significantly declined in June and July of 2020, but they have gradually increased in the months that followed and set consecutive all-time highs in November and December 2020.

In 2020, Australia became the world’s largest LNG exporter for the first time, overtaking Qatar, with exports averaging 10.2 bcfd, an increase of 0.3 bcfd (3%) compared with 2019. Exports from Qatar declined by 0.1 bcfd (1%) compared with 2019. Exports from all other countries have either remained flat or declined, amounting to a combined 1.6 bcfd decrease compared with 2019.

Top LNG importers

Among all LNG-importing regions, only Asia had an increase in annual LNG imports, by 1.1 bcfd (3%), in 2020 compared with 2019. China and India drove the overall annual increase. China’s LNG imports increased by 1.0 bcfd and India by 0.4 bcfd in 2020. In China, continuous growth in LNG imports mainly resulted from government-supported coal-to-natural gas switching policies to reduce air pollution. In India, all-time low spot LNG prices in the spring and summer of 2020 led to more fuel switching and an increase in LNG imports procured on a spot basis. LNG imports to Japan continued to decline in 2020, averaging 9.8 bcfd, which was 0.3 bcfd less than in 2019. Europe’s LNG imports declined by 5%, averaging 10.7 bcfd in 2020, but remained significantly higher than the 6.1 bcfd in 2017 and 6.4 bcfd in 2018.