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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan April 11, 2011

Libya sells most of its oil to Europe, not China

Donald Trump has said he’s thinking about running for president, and while he’s gotten a lot of attention for questioning President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, he’s also made several provocative statements about foreign policy.

In an interview on Fox News, Trump discussed the Middle East, starting out with the war in Iraq, then moving on to U.S. air strikes in Libya.

"You know in the old days, when you won a war, to the victor belongs the spoils. You kept it," Trump said. "We win a war, and we hand it over to some people we don't know and we leave."

"And we lose the contracts to China," interjected one of the Fox anchors.

"Yes, China will be another one," Trump agreed. "By the way, Libya supplies the oil for China. We get no oil from Libya. What are we doing?"

We thought Trump’s statement about Libya and China was interesting, so we decided to look into it. We asked a Trump spokesman for comment, but we didn't hear back.

So we turned to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), a federal agency that collects data on energy. We’ll take Trump’s statement in two parts.

 • Libya supplies the oil for China. Libya does supply some oil to China, but it’s not as large as Trump’s statement implies.

The EIA showed that Libya’s No. 1 customer is Italy, which bought 28 percent of Libya’s exports in 2010. Italy was followed by France, at 15 percent, then China, at 11 percent. After that, Libya sold to Germany, 10 percent; Spain, 10 percent; Greece, 5 percent; the United Kingdom, 4 percent, and United States, 3 percent. (More on that 3 percent in a bit.) Other countries combined to buy 14 percent of Libya’s exports.

We also wanted to know what share of China's imported oil comes from Libya. We found that in 2009, China bought most of its imported oil from Saudi Arabia, which supplied 21 percent. That was followed by Angola, 16 percent; Iran, 11 percent; Russia, 8 percent; Sudan, 6 percent; Oman, 6 percent; Iraq, 3.5 percent; Kuwait, 3.5 percent and then Libya at 3.1 percent. Libya is followed by Kazakhstan at 2.9 percent and Venezuela at 2.6 percent. Other countries combined supplied 17.4 percent of China’s imports.

So China is a big customer of Libyan oil, but not the biggest, and there are many other customers. And Libya is far from being China’s chief supplier. It ranks ninth.

 • We get no oil from Libya. The United States doesn’t get much oil from Libya.

In 2010, the U.S. imported 25.7 million barrels of oil from Libya, down from a recent high of 42.8 million barrels in 2007. The U.S. didn’t import any oil from Libya between 1982 and 2004, due to an oil embargo first imposed by President Ronald Reagan.

Libya is such a small source that it doesn’t make it into the list of the top 15 countries from which the United States imports oil.

U.S companies are working to develop Libya’s oil sector, however. In 2009, a deputy assistant secretary of state told Congress that U.S. companies are "probably the most active and the most successful" in helping Libya revitalize its oil sector.

"They're seeking our technology because it's the best in the world and we're doing quite well," said the U.S. State Department’s William Hudson. "The Chinese are also active, but our companies have really taken the lion's share so far of bidding on plots for oil production."

Trump said, "Libya supplies the oil for China. We get no oil from Libya." His point in the first sentence was clearly that Libya was a major supplier of oil for China. But the data do not support his claim. Libya is far from being China’s chief supplier. It ranks ninth.

Featured Fact-check

The second part of his statement is false -- the U.S. does get oil from Libya and the percentage is likely to increase..

On the whole, we rate Trump’s statement False.

Our Sources

Fox News, interview with Donald Trump, April 4, 2011

U.S. Energy Information Administration, Country Analysis Briefs: China, November 2010

U.S. Energy Information Administration, Country Analysis Briefs: Libya, February 2011

U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Imports from Libya of Crude Oil, March 30, 2011

U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Imports by Country of Origin, March 30, 2011

BBC News, Timeline, Libya sanctions, Oct. 15, 2004

Prof. Deborah Brautigam, China and Libya: What's the Real Story?, March 4, 2011

Interview with Prof. Deborah Brautigam, April 11, 2011

Federal News Service, Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, July 16, 2009, accessed via Nexis

Los Angeles Times, Libyan strife exposes China's risks in global quest for oil, March 9, 2011

The New York Times, In Libyan Port, Stranded Migrants Watch Hope Depart, Feb. 26, 2011

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Libya sells most of its oil to Europe, not China

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