Asia's top buyers of Iranian crude cut purchases by about 15 percent so far this year but shipments may start rising after six world powers agreed this past Sunday to ease some sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
Tough US and EU sanctions have slashed exports from the OPEC member by more than half to about 1 million barrels per day (bpd), costing it as much as $80 billion in lost revenue since early 2012, according to White House estimates.
That pressured Iran to the negotiating table with world powers, resulting in a historic deal on Nov 24 that gives Tehran some relief for its shattered economy.
India has already said it might start buying more crude from Iran because it has cut its imports below what was allowed by sanctions. Iran can also transfer some of the billions in petrodollars that have been held up in purchasing countries.
"Buyers like India really couldn't take much Iranian oil because of issues surrounding insurance," said Tony Nunan, oil risk manager at Mitsubishi Corp in Tokyo.
"The deal smoothens out things a bit, and that will make it easier for buyers to import Iranian oil. We may see some increases in exports," he said.
Imports by Iran's largest customers - China, India, Japan and South Korea - dropped to 924,560 bpd in the first 10 months of the year, down from 1.087 million bpd in the same period a year ago, according to official customs reports and tanker data from trade sources.
Shipments in October by the four totalled 669,524 bpd, down 42.6 pct from 1.17 million bpd a year ago.
India made the deepest cuts this year as two of its state-run refiners worried about constraints to insurance coverage for tankers carrying Iranian oil and refineries processing it.
Although the Geneva deal doesn't allow Iran to boost oil sales for six months, India has room to raise its imports after cutting them about 40 percent so far this year to 193,900 bpd.
India may buy more crude from Iran in the next four months and intends to increase purchases further in the next fiscal year, its top oil bureaucrat said on Wednesday.
Underlining the depth of Iran's pain from the sanctions, its biggest customer China imported just under 250,000 bpd of Iranian crude in October, the lowest level since June 2010.
In the first ten months, China's purchases from Iran were down 3.4 percent at 409,976 bpd.