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Oil prices rise on Chinese data, before OPEC meet

LONDON, Dec 10 – Oil prices rose on Friday following strong Chinese import data and on the eve of a meeting of OPEC to set the cartel\’s crude output levels, traders said.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in January climbed 41 cents to 91.40 dollars a barrel in London trade.

New York\’s main contract, light sweet crude for January, gained 51 cents to 88.88 dollars a barrel.

China said Friday that exports and imports hit record highs in November, which analysts said would ramp up pressure on Beijing for further interest rate hikes and a stronger currency.

"China’s crude oil imports soared in November by 22 percent, year-on-year, to 20.9 million tons (5.09 million barrels a day)," noted analysts at Commerzbank.

"China thus remains the main driver of global oil demand."

Oil demand and prices are meanwhile showing a year-end spurt, pushed by global growth and a surprising pick-up in advanced economies, but these pressures should ease in the medium term, the IEA said on Friday.

Strong growth in Asia remains the main driver of new demand for oil, but the International Energy Agency warned that inflation in China could unwind with a "hard landing".

Diesel was the key factor in the growth of demand, partly owing to the use of small generators and harvesting equipment in China. Another factor was rising demand for gasoline (petrol) for US motorists.

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Elsewhere on Friday, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries raised its forecast for oil demand in 2010 because of global economic recovery and cold weather in Europe, a day before OPEC ministers meet on production levels.

OPEC, which pumps about 35 percent of world oil, meets in the Ecuadoran capital on Saturday with the goal of keeping quotas as they are, despite a recent rise in the price of oil and a forecast increase in demand.

The meeting will be the last before Ecuador hands OPEC\’s rotating presidency to Iran for 2011 — the first time in 36 years the Islamic republic will be the temporary leader of the cartel.

Stimulated by a weak US dollar and a cold snap in Europe and parts of the United States, the price of a barrel of crude recently broke the psychologically important 90-dollar barrier for the first time since October 2008.

The 12-member organization has maintained its official production target unchanged at 24.8 million barrels a day since January 1, 2009, when it agreed to a hefty cut aimed at boosting oil prices that had tumbled to about 30 dollars because of the financial crisis.

Most members consider a price of between 75 and 85 dollars a barrel to be adequate, though hard-line nations like Venezuela and Libya would like to see prices rise to 100 dollars or more to compensate for the weak dollar.

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