* Planned volumes seen around 1.26 mln bpd
* China, Taiwan and India reduce imports
* Imports fall from an 8-month high in November (Adds background, outlook for January)
By Emma Farge
LONDON, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Asian imports of West African crude oil are set to fall sharply in December to 1.26 million bpd, oil traders said on Monday, despite the relatively inexpensive price of Brent compared to Asian grades.
About 41 cargoes of West African crude are set to sail to Asia from West Africa in December compared with a planned 53 cargoes in November, according to traders.
Asian imports of West African crude in November were a planned 1.68 million bpd and the highest in eight months.
The sharp fall was largely due to lower import requirements from China, India and Taiwan, traders said. They added that no exports from West Africa to Korea or Japan were seen .
China is set to buy around 25 cargoes from West Africa in December versus 28 in November while Taiwan’s imports are set to fall to two cargoes from six.
Most of the exports will be sourced from Africa’s two top oil producers , Nigeria and Angola , which were set to export a total of around 3.71 million bpd in December.
The expected fall in Asian imports came as a surprise to many traders given weaker prices of Brent, which serves as the basis for West African crude prices, against Dubai crude.
The Brent-Dubai spread, which serves as a measure for the profitability of the arbitrage to ship oil eastwards as well as a market for the relative strength of sweet and sour grades, fell to a one-year low of $1.38 a barrel in November. <BFO/DUB-1M>
A West African trader working for an Asian firm said the lower-than-average imports were probably the result of high demand in late November.
“We bought less in December but I don’t think it’s fundamental. We took more in late November,” he said.
Traders said that buying patterns for the January loading programme indicated that Asian imports might rise again in early 2012.
Indian Oil Corp (IOC) has already bought around 4 million barrels of West African crude oil grades including Forcados, Qua Iboe, Bonny Light and Girassol for loading in January, traders said. (Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Anthony Barker)